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Common objections to gun control ideas don’t stand up

In the wake of my Sunday column on the Oregon community college murders, several people raised a similar objection to my suggestion that we extend criminal background checks to all gun sales.

In emails to me and in calls to the Alan Stock radio show on KXNT-AM 840 on Monday, the message was the same: Background checks wouldn’t have stopped the Oregon murders.

And that’s true. The shooter reportedly purchased his firearms legally, and presumably passed background checks to do so.

But there are a couple of problems with that argument nonetheless.

First, I never said that background checks would stop mass shootings. All I have ever said is this: Background checks make it harder to buy guns for those who are not supposed to purchase or own firearms legally.

But — assuming we agree that ex-felons, domestic abusers and mentally ill people shouldn’t be armed — isn’t it a good thing to make it harder for them to buy guns?

Of course, with more than 270 million firearms in America, there will almost always be a way for evildoers to steal, illegally purchase or otherwise lay their hands on a gun. But that doesn’t mean society should give up on all efforts to protect itself.

Here’s how you can tell: Nobody is calling for the repeal of existing background checks, even though it’s clear that they failed to stop the Oregon shooter and many other mass killers. But since 1998, those background checks have stopped more than 2 million people who aren’t allowed to own a firearm but tried to buy one. Insofar as those transactions go, background checks worked.

And if we acknowledge that background checks worked in those instances, there exists very little reason not to extend them to all gun sales, including those between private parties. Because if we agree that keeping guns away from those legally ineligible to have them is a good thing, then it follows that we must know who those people are. Background checks are the way to do that.

Again, it will not solve the problem of mass shootings. But it is part of a multi-faceted solution. Nevadans will get their chance to take action on this issue next year, when a background check measure will appear on the November ballot.

A second objection to my column was to the concept of “gun-free zones.” If only weapons were not prohibited on the Oregon campus in question, perhaps a “good guy with a gun” could have stopped the bad guy with a gun, people said.

Perhaps. But it’s just as likely things could have been made worse.

On Tuesday, I asked Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo about the concept of more armed, concealed-weapon carrying civilians. After the requisite nod to supporting the Second Amendment, Lombardo warned that even certified concealed-weapon permit holders might not have the skills to ward off an armed attacker during a fast-moving, life-or-death situation.

His own police officers are constantly trained, qualified and re-qualified, and even they don’t always successfully use their firearms to stop armed threats during critical incidents, Lombardo said. (To that point, the founder of the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute, Ignatius Piazza, often says you’ll be half as good in the field as you are on your best day on the range.)

Not only that, Lombardo said, but when officers do arrive at an “active shooter” situation, how are they to tell that the person in civilian clothing shooting at another is the good guy with the gun or the bad guy with the gun?

I’m not saying — and Lombardo was not saying — that a well-trained, well-prepared CCW permit holder couldn’t have saved the day in Oregon. I am saying it’s impossible to know for sure either way, and to assert otherwise is questionable at best.

— Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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