Lawmakers, Guns, and Money

Fiscal conservatives are unlikely to carp about one special-interest provision in the recently-passed appropriations bill: Congress blocked the FBI from implementing an $18 user fee on people who buy guns. The fee was to pay for the new National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which, starting on Nov. 30, will replace the five-day waiting period for handgun purchases that was mandated in the 1993 gun control law commonly known as the Brady bill. The background-check system, you may recall, was cooked up at the insistence of the NRA, which hates the idea that anyone should have to wait five days to get a gun. (In a memorable Simpsons episode, a homicidal Homer complains to his local gun dealer: “But I’m mad now!) Now that the five-day wait period is being phased out in the 20 or so states that don’t have their own wait-period laws, the NRA (with the help of Sen. Bob Smith, R., N.H., and Rep. Bob Barr, R., Ga.) has ensured that the cost of the new system won’t be borne by the people who demanded its creation.

And that isn’t all. In today’s Wall Street Journal, NRA lobbyist James Baker (not the same guy as the former Secretary of State) says, “We are in favor of instant-check systems. But we’re not in favor of a number of things the FBI is doing.” What, more complaints? The Journal piece, otherwise quite good, didn’t say what these complaints were, so Chatterbox called NRA spokesman Jim Manown and asked him. It turns out that the FBI would like to hang on to information about who was subjected to a background check–that is, who bought a gun–for up to 18 months! “We very strongly oppose that because that potentially amounts to the creation of a centralized database of gun owners,” says Manown. Well, er…yeah. Manown claims that this runs contrary to the 1986 Firearms Owners Protection Act. Chatterbox has no idea whether it does or it doesn’t, but figures if the taxpayers are going to fund all these background checks that the NRA is making them perform, they ought to have access to who’s being checked–and for a lot longer than 18 months.

Timothy Noah