"And I'm going to focus on the ones that relate primarily to gun ownership and the type of weapons can be owned. And one is, there is a surprising -- so far -- a surprising recurrence of suggestions that we have universal background checks. Not just close the gun show loophole but total, universal background checks, including private sales."
-- Vice President Joe Biden ahead of meetings with gun rights groups Thursday on what he will recommend to curb mass killings.
If you live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the idea of “universal background checks” on firearms sounds like a perfectly reasonable idea.
Of course, you might also think that personal ownership of guns should be outlawed anyway. That being the case, making sure that every time a gun is sold, the buyer is screened for criminal and mental health problems sounds eminently reasonable.
But if you live in Humphrey, Ark. or Yawkey, W.Va., you might think that regulating private gun sales is a perfectly crazy idea.
After all, if you lived in one of those places or one like them, you would likely have a gun, or multiple guns, in your home. In fact, they might be among the most valuable possessions in your home. Some might be handed down from a grandfather while others might have been long-prized, wish-list items finally obtained.
For rural America, selling a shotgun to a neighbor, giving a deer rifle as a gift or swapping pistols with a friend are normal things.
When city people think of guns, they think of crime and their own vulnerability. When country people think of guns, they think of hunting and shooting and of their own empowerment.
Guns are incredibly potent symbols in American life. For the rural descendants of the Scots-Irish Diaspora, the gun is a symbol of power, equality, protection and self-reliance. Only a free person can have a gun.
For urbanites, guns are symbols of menace, of a criminal underclass that threatens the social order – of chaos. Only an outlaw would want to have a gun.
Conservatives have been pointing to 1995 remarks by Attorney General Eric Holder in which the then-U.S. Attorney for D.C. spoke of the need to stigmatize guns and to “brainwash” people into being ashamed of owning guns.
Holder was at the time prosecuting criminals in the “murder capital,” where wide ranging drug wars that began in the late 1980 resulted in hundreds of homicides every year. There were nearly 400 murders in DC in 1995.
Compare that to 2012 when there were 88 murders in the District, the first time there were fewer than 100 since 1963.
Gun rights advocates point out that murder rates have fallen sharply since the Supreme Court overturned the District’s gun ban in 2008. More people with access to guns for self-defense could certainly account for a decrease in random, violent crime and murder. Carjacking would seem a less promising prospect if the driver of the Lexus might have a Glock under the front seat.
But demographics – DC has been gentrifying like crazy for a decade – and the end of the crack wars are probably the biggest part of the decline. Affluent, college-educated people who don’t smoke or deal crack are not likely to be victims of drive-by shootings.
But Holder and Vice President Joe Biden are thinking about things in very mid-1990s terms in which liberals believed gun restrictions were the key to lower murder rates. Murder rates, of course, are already low in comparison to two decades ago, but those were the formative professional years for both men and they are going back to their wheelhouse: cracking down on guns.
But the current crisis isn’t about murder, it is about mass murder – random, mass killings by deranged lone wolves. Private-sale background checks wouldn’t have denied the killers in Newtown or Aurora or Blacksburg their guns. No private sales were involved.
It’s questionable whether regulating private sales would do much for the old-fashioned murders from Holder and Biden’s glory days as crime fighters. After all, a gangbanger who means to kill a rival crack deal would hardly tremor at the thought of violating one more law in the process.
Leaving aside whether such a thing would do any good for any kind of murders, the idea of universal background checks is certain to do one thing: seriously annoy gun owners.
If a father wants to trade guns with his son, would both need to submit to background checks? If a neighbor sells a shotgun to a neighbor, who pays for the check? How does one conduct it? If Power Play sells you an old Mossburg pump for $75, does Power Play get to know your criminal and mental health history?
Imposing such a rule would make criminals of a lot of country folks and make Red America really see red.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“It looks as if the binder of women that Obama ordered up was extremely thin or perhaps it was empty when he got it.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he serves as the host of "Power Play" on FoxNews.com and makes daily appearances on the network including "America Live with Megyn Kelly," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace." Most recently, Stirewalt provided expert political analysis during the 2012 presidential election.