Gun Control History: How the NRA Proposed NICS
In 1994, gun control proponents were riding high. They achieved passage of the “Brady Bill” which gave us the National Instant Check System, better known as NICS, in November 1993, but their successes didn’t stop there. In September of 1994, the federal Assault Weapons Ban passed. Though mostly pointless in hindsight, it gave gun control proponents the impression that they had in fact banned all weapons of that type and would not need to address them again. Between these two legislative victories and the 1989 import ban on certain types of rifles and handguns, gun control folks felt they were on the winning track.
Looking back at what they proposed as their next steps is quite illuminating in a historical sense, but also gives gun rights supporters an idea of what to expect next. Of course, we know the standard proposals which are often floated about in the national news, like “universal background checks” and another “assault weapons ban” (both of which, remember, should have been unnecessary in 2019 according to the rhetoric of the anti-gun crowd in 1994).
Take a look, for example, at this excerpt from a Fordham Urban Law Journal article from 1995 titled “The Battle Over the Brady Bill and the Future of Gun Control Advocacy”:
“As a result (of passing the Brady Bill), the nation would stop distributing our society’s most deadly consumer product, the handgun, without even verifying whether the would-be purchaser had a criminal record… Gun control supporters had shown that they could defeat the much vaunted NRA…”
Interestingly, most of the rhetoric I’ve found relating to the Brady Bill centered on the five-day waiting period and its unconstitutional directive that local law enforcement had to conduct background checks of gun buyers, not the NICS system we all know and roll our eyes at today. I say the local law enforcement portion was “unconstitutional” because the Supreme Court said so in a 5-4 decision in Printz v. United States. Essentially, the federal government can’t direct state law enforcement to do things because of parts of the Constitution and Bill of Rights that have nothing to do with the Second Amendment.
Further, I say the rhetoric is interesting because the five-day waiting period has long since gone away due to a sunset provision in the law. All that is left of the Brady Bill, in a substantive sense, is the NICS portion. Why weren’t gun control supporters talking about the instant check part of the bill?
Because they didn’t come up with it – the NRA did.
Whether it was intended as a poison pill to kill the bill or as a genuine alternative to the proposals of the anti-gun crowd, the NRA’s instant check idea became part of the bill that was signed into law – and it is now the only part of the bill that remains.
Anti-gun folks love to bash the NRA regarding lapses in state reporting to NICS, blaming the NRA for the decision in Printz, even though that case came to the correct decision (one wonders if those same people would support the federal government forcing state and local law enforcement officials to, for example, enforce federal immigration law). They have forgotten – perhaps willfully – that had they had their way originally, there would have been no background checks on gun purchases. After all, their onerous requirement for state and local officials to call the FBI for a background check on every gun purchaser was struck down by the Supreme Court.
Today’s version of politics goes something like “Whatever my opponent supports, I oppose.” Perhaps the biggest lesson here is not for gun rights supporters but gun control supporters: consider that you don’t have all the answers, that your proposed solutions might be neither effective nor constitutional, and that your most hated opponent might have an idea you can support.
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