"I'm not sure we can guarantee this [mass school killings] will never happen again, but as the president said, even if we can only save one life, it would make sense." Vice President Joe Biden.
No, it wouldn't make sense.
Saving one life is not worth doing, if the doing significantly diminishes the privacy and liberty lives of most Americans. That is the issue presented by the President and his political allies in response to the Sandy Hook murders.
The proponents of universal background checks on gun and/or ammo purchase have more in mind than simply universal background checks; for universal background checks using a national, federal (FBI) database have existed since the 1990s, when they were instituted under the 1993 Brady Law.
Current law requires a background check that disqualifies anyone from purchasing a gun if he or she was dishonorably discharged from the armed services, is illegally addicted to a controlled substance, has been adjudicated to be mentally defective or has been committed to a mental institution, is an illegal or unlawful alien, or is a criminal, among other disqualifications. (FBI Fact Sheet, National Criminal Background Check System).
Some extensions of current background law will be mostly noncontroversial for most Americans, including many advocates for strict interpretation of the 2nd amendment, such as requiring firearms sellers at firearms shows to do background checks.
But one extension that would raise great concerns for many Americans would be broader definition of psychological disqualifications for gun purchase. Broader definition would easily extend to most American when ObamaCare's requirement for mental health benefits is fully implemented.
Many persons seek psychological counselling for dealing with, for instance, marital difficulties, depression and other mood disorders, emotional problems in personal and workplace relationships, victimization from bullying, PTSD, pain and suffering from physical injury, anxieties attendant upon dramatic life changes, and normal emotional confusion and difficulty in adolescent growth and other life stages. For the overwhelming majority of Americans, these psychological disturbances pose no more of a threat to the one's own life or the lives of others than having the flu.
Broader and looser definition of psychological conditions that disqualify gun purchase and ownership can easily, and almost certainly will, include most adults. How would regulations implement broader definition? Would licensed counsellors, psychiatrists, physicians, ministers, any and all persons who professionally administer psychological therapy and guidance, be required to report their clients and their conditions to a national database?
Will the prescription and taking of pharmaceutical medicines for psychiatric therapy be deemed evidence of mental incapacity? Shall doctors be required to report when and to whom they prescribe such medicines? Shall pharmacists be required to report when and for whom they fill such prescriptions? Such requirements are surely not beyond the scope of broader definitions and regulation of mental incapacity to purchase guns and ammo.
Be assured, over a few years, more psychological conditions would be added by politicians to a list of disqualifications in response to incidents. Legitimate reasons for gun purchase, ownership, and use would be negated by regulations. In short order, the 2nd amendment would be regulated out of existence. And, alas, for many gun control advocates, this is the hidden and ultimate purpose of extension of the background check law.
The creation of such a database will assuredly find addition uses besides gun regulation. Will employers be allowed to query the national database to determine whether a prospective employee might be a danger to other persons in the workplace? Will colleges be allowed to query the database to determine whether applicants might be a danger on campus? Will men and women be allowed to query the database to determine whether prospective marriage mates might be abusers and a danger to wife and children? We already have, in California and other states, such publicly open databases of sex felons, whose prospects for life after serving legal sentences are effectively destroyed. Why should we expect the government to prohibit such uses of a national gun disqualification database?
Such uses of a database would strike most people as a violation of the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty, that a person cannot be punished for a crime he/she has not committed, that all persons are due legal process, and that doctor - patient relationships should be privileged and private in all but the most extreme instances (e.g., that a specific threat to the life of the patient or to other persons is demonstrably a clear and present danger).
Advocates of state and federal databases of psychological and psychiatric profiles of Americans would certainly argue that such databases can be secure, the data available only to legal, permitted users, and medical privacy and privilege of Americans profiled therein protected. This argument is nonsense. State and federal internet accessible databases are wide open to knowledgeable hackers. California state databases are regularly hacked and personal identifying information of, for instance, state employees, regularly stolen and used for fraud. Federal databases are no better. Both state and federal computers, internet servers, and distributed terminals, as in the FBI, are antiquated, often mostly nonfunctional, and poorly understood by the administrators in charge of them. The second - the very instant - that personal private information is put into a state or federal database, it will be hacked, stolen, distributed, and used for illegal purposes, some certainly by newspapers and journalistic media eager to expose the mental condition of people.
The President and Vice President perceive, as a general idea, not from knowledge of specific persons demonstrated to pose a danger, such a danger to schools and other public places from possible mass murders that they are eager to restrict the 2nd amendment. Given their readiness to follow general ideas in making policy, why should we believe they stop there but not also restrict other rights when the public might be in danger?
The possible restrictions of liberty and due process due to expanded definitions of persons who should not be allowed to purchase guns and ammo are so onerous and threatening that many citizens would avoid seeking psychological counselling for fear of being put in a national database. They would avoid counselling, not necessarily because they might be denied the right to purchase such firearms, but because they fear misuse of the database by state and federal governments. And, candidly, in my opinion, they would have reason to fear such misuse.
Revised January 13, 15, 2013.