This week, U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) introduced HR8. According to the title, the bill is “To require a background check for every firearm sale.” The bill does that–and a great deal more.
HR8 requires that loans, gifts, and sales of firearms be processed by a gun store. The same fees, paperwork, and permanent record-keeping apply as to buying a new gun from the store. If you loan a gun to a friend without going to the gun store, the penalty is the same as for knowingly selling a gun to a convicted violent felon. Likewise, when the friend returns the gun, another trip to the gun store is necessary, upon pain of felony.
A clever trick in HR8 effectively bans handguns for persons 18-to20.
The bill has some narrow exemptions. The exemptions do not cover stalking victims. Also excluded are farming and ranching, sharing guns on almost all public and private lands, NS storing guns with friends while on vacation. The limited exemption for family excludes first cousins and in-laws. The minuscule exemption for self-defense excludes stalking victims.
The bill authorizes unlimited fees to be imposed by regulation.
There is a partial exemption for immediate self-defense: “(D) a temporary transfer that is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm, if the possession by the transferee lasts only as long as immediately necessary to prevent the imminent death or great bodily harm”.
The narrowness of the self-defense exemption endangers domestic violence victims. For example, a former domestic partner threatens a woman and her children. An attack might come in the next hour, or the next month, or never. The victim and her children cannot know. Because the attack is uncertain—and is certainly not “immediate”—the woman cannot borrow a handgun from a neighbor for her defense. Many domestic violence victims do not have several hundred spare dollars so that they can buy their own gun.
Handgun ban for young adults
Since 1968, federal law has said that gun stores may not sell handguns to persons under 21. 18 U.S.C. § 922(c)(1). Congress has not chosen to prohibit persons aged 18-20 from acquiring handguns elsewhere. The large majority of states allow handgun possession by persons 18-20.
Some legislators have forthrightly introduced bills to impose a ban on young adults. HR8 prohibits young adults from acquiring handguns, but does so with a clever subterfuge.
HR8 requires almost all firearms sales and loans to be conducted by a federally-licensed dealer. Because federal law prohibits licensed dealers from transferring handguns to persons under 21 years, HR8 prevents young adults from acquiring handguns. This is a clever way to enact a handgun ban indirectly.
HR8 would prohibit a 20-year-old woman who lives on her own from acquiring a handgun for self-defense in her home, such as by buying it from a relative or borrowing it from a friend.
Although HR8 allows young adults to acquire handguns by parental gift, not all young adults who are living on their own receive parental largesse.
Exorbitant fees may be imposed by regulation
”(3)(A) Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, the Attorney General may implement this sub-section with regulations.”
”(D) Regulations promulgated under this paragraph may not include any provision placing a cap on the fee licensees may charge to facilitate transfers in accordance with paragraph (1).”
Regulators may set a minimum fee, but not “a cap on a fee.” The Attorney General is allowed to require that every gun store charge a fee of $30, $50, $150, or more. Even a $20 fee can be a hard burden to a poor person.
Farming and Ranching
HR8 has a limited exemption for “hunting, trapping, or fishing”—but not for ranching or farming.
Firearms transfers at farms and ranches are part of routine operations. Some transfers might last a few hours, while others last for several weeks—as when a ranch hand takes a gun to guard a flock night and day during calving season. Under HR8, the transfer is allowed only when the farmer or rancher stays in the hand’s “presence.” This is impractical; often the hand needs to do work in one location, and the farmer or rancher in another.
Under HR8, for a farmer or rancher to lend a firearm to an employee, they both must travel to a gun store to process the transfer. When the employee returns the firearm, everyone must return again to the gun store.
Because few farms and ranches are located near gun stores, the process typically requires hours of travel for the loan, and hours more for the return. This takes the farmer, the rancher, and their hands away from the farm or ranch during what may be the busiest period of the year, when everyone needs to work from sunup to sundown.
You can make a “a loan or bona fide gift” to some family members. In-laws and cousins are excluded.
The family exemption vanishes if one family member pays the other in any way. If a brother trades an extra shotgun to his sister in exchange for her extra television, both of them have to go to a gun store. Their exchange will have all the fees and paperwork as if she were buying a gun from the store.
Outlawing gun sharing on public and private property
There is an exemption for sharing guns “(i) at a shooting range or in a shooting gallery or other area designated for the purpose of target shooting”.
Not everyone has access to a “designated” target range. In rural areas with low population density, the nearest designated range may be far away. In urban areas, the waiting lists for membership in a gun club may stretch out for years. Designated public ranges exist, but in many areas, there are few or none. Those that do exist may be a long ways away, or may be crowded, with long waiting times.
Accordingly, Americans have always engage in target practice at informal ranges on public lands. Today, many of these lands are owned by the U.S. National Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, or a state or local equivalent.
Private property may be also used, with the owner’s consent. The general legal rule is that shooting is lawful anywhere in rural areas, except for specified sites, such near public roads. Of course one must always obey all safety rules, which includes ensuring that there is a safe backstop to the target, such as a mound of dirt.
HR8 prohibits firearms sharing on public or private lands that have not been “designated for the purpose of target shooting.”