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Monday, February 4, 2013

Background Checks Matter - Sometimes!

A while back, a person I know made an application for what sounded like his dream job.  A former client had recommended him to the owner of a very successful company, and an appointment was made. The first and second interviews went well.  After the second interview, he was told that he would be contacted within the next week to schedule a third meeting, a dinner date that would include the wives. The company placed a great deal of emphasis on family, and understood that a man with strong family values and a supportive wife would make a better employee and team member.  The call never came.  With the stellar interviews, personal and professional references from a very successful colleague, and the high qualifications of the applicant, it seemed odd that suddenly nothing was happening.  The applicant decided a follow-up phone call was in order, and at that time learned that he was no longer being considered for the position.

What happened?  Probably the background check.   Unfortunately, there was a black mark on the report.  An incident from many years ago, that should have been expunged, was the likely reason that he didn’t get the job.  An incident that had a perfect explanation – but the details aren’t listed on a background check.  Just the facts, ma’am.  And sadly, unless and until my friend hires an attorney and jumps through the legal hoops required, this black mark will follow him for the rest of his life.

Background checks contain Objective Information.  The Facts.  However, like the medical record of a patient, the Subjective Information, while it doesn’t change the Objective Information, can shed a different light, or offer an explanation regarding the Objective Information. In other words, Lucy can sometimes ‘splain what happened. The facts remain the facts, though.

In the past I have joked that before I would agree to go out with a man, he would have to provide references and a background check.  (With very few exceptions, if you could see a list of my choices in men, you would understand this!)  But would a background check provide the entire picture?  A squeaky clean background doesn’t mean that a person is above reproach, or that he hasn’t done bad things, or inflicted bad behavior/actions upon other folks.  It just means that he’s never been arrested for it.  A person’s mental state is not reflected on a background check.  Their integrity, or lack thereof, isn’t either.  The jerk factor, or the deadbeat factor won’t show up.  Should I demand his bank statements, to try to determine how he spends his money?  Maybe that would direct me to pharmacy purchases so that I would know whether or not he takes regular medications.  I’m sure he wouldn’t mind providing a list of said medications so that I can Google them, and get a better idea of what ailments he has.  Or better yet, perhaps he would sign a consent to release information form.  That way I can check his medical records, which are very revealing about a person, divulging not only medical info, but personal, social, and sometimes financial information as well.
A formal criminal background check, which is the most common form used for basic information, leaves a lot to be desired.  I couldn’t count on a clean report to ensure that my prospective date would be a good catch.  Because the picture is so much bigger than that. 

In today’s world, the words “background check” do not necessarily conjure up thoughts of job applications, and most certainly not boyfriend applications.  Our attention is immediately drawn to the hot-button topic of the day/week/month: Gun Control.  The media has inundated us with the sweet faces of the beautiful children killed at Sandy Hook, and like most folks, my heart breaks every time I see them. Most all of us have a soft spot for children – especially those of us with children or grandchildren the same ages as those who were killed.  It is unfathomable – a horror so unthinkable that we can’t and won’t imagine it happening in our town, at our school.  When I think of the 20 tiny little angels in heaven, I don’t worry for them.  But as a parent and a grandparent – my heart aches and I hurt deeply for the parents and grandparents of those babies. For weeks, we have seen those sweet faces on the television, on the internet, and in the newspapers.

A short time later, we were introduced to the faces of four more children.  They, along with their parents, stood behind President Obama, as he signed papers that would put into motion plans that the government has proposed to stop gun violence.  The two major talking points in this proposal are “Background Checks” and “Banning Assault Weapons.” 

To check the effectiveness of keeping “banned” items off the street, take a look at alcohol consumption during Prohibition.  Take a look at illicit drug activity today.  I won’t even waste my time writing, or yours reading, to discuss how great the concept of “banning” something works.  It’s a simple formula:  As long as there is a demand, there will be a supply.  End of argument.

To check the effectiveness of a background check, see my paragraph above regarding Background Checks for Boyfriends.  No doubt, background checks will stop a convicted felon from purchasing a firearm from a licensed dealer.  What felon doesn’t know that?  Who honestly believes a convicted felon would walk into a gun shop, fill out the paperwork, and then be surprised when he is denied?  No.  He will buy his firearms from someone else.  Just as will a mentally deranged person, a collector of “illegal” weapons, or the drug dealer, gang member, or everyday thug on the street.  A criminal isn’t going to attempt to legally purchase a firearm, regardless of a background check, that leaves behind a paper trail connecting him to that weapon.  As with my arguments on getting a background search for my potential boyfriend, it’s about as worthless a security measure for someone wanting to purchase a gun.  I could still end up with a crappy boyfriend, and the gun store could end up selling a gun to someone with evil intent.

The argument has been raised “if you’re not a criminal, or have no bad intent, then you shouldn’t object to background checks”.  And this is true, to some extent.  But here’s something to consider.  Before writing this, I made a phone call to a licensed gun store, to verify what I’m about to say.  Any store in the state of Georgia licensed to sell firearms, is required by the government to submit a background check on the person attempting to purchase it.  The checks are performed by the FBI.  I asked him what items would disqualify a person.  A felony conviction, a pending warrant, and “a few other things” that might raise a red flag.  He couldn’t (or maybe wouldn’t??) tell me a specific list of things.

Okay. Here’s the major point of my post.  (Thanks for hanging in here this long)  I truly don’t see, at least in my lifetime, the feds knocking on our doors, demanding that we surrender the firearms we have in our homes.  I believe (hope!) such an action would incite a revolution.  But consider this:  If the government wants to control the sale of guns, what better place to start than with the background check itself?  “The FBI” is the one who sets the criteria for Pass/Fail.  What if the criteria changes?  Currently the big no-no is a convicted felony charge.  What if in a few years, they start adding items to that list?  Examples:

1.     Do you suffer migraine headaches?
a.     FAIL.  You could go on a shooting rampage while in the clutches of a migraine.
2.     Do you currently, or have you ever taken antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication?
a.     FAIL.  Red flag for possible mental illness.
3.     Has anyone in your family ever died by anything other than medical illness?
a.     FAIL.  You probably want a firearm for retaliation purposes.
4.     Have you ever been involved in a divorce?
a.     FAIL.  You may have anger issues.

See where I’m going with this?  Call me paranoid, but there are plenty of ways for the government to “control” our guns that don’t include prying them out of our cold, dead hands.  At one time I was not opposed to background checks.  But now I’m even beginning to question my feelings on that – for the reasons stated above – 1) Folks who won’t pass it will just buy their guns on the street anyway, 2) The FBI can manipulate the criteria to the point that it will be virtually impossible for anyone, convicted felon or not, to pass the test.  Or, they can slap taxes on ammunition to the point that either the general public can’t afford to buy them, or the companies who make it can’t stay in business.  Yes, there are many ways the government can implement “gun control”.  And last, but not least, do I really want Big Brother knowing what kind, and how many weapons I choose to keep in my home?  No, I don’t think so.  When I’m ready to purchase another firearm, I think I’ll just buy from an individual.  It’s nobody’s business but mine.  (Or the person who might make the unwise decision to put me in a position to defend myself or my family….)

Background checks, as used for purchasing a gun, simply state the obvious.  It’s information that’s public record anyway.  Granted, I could hire a Private Investigator to do a comprehensive background check for a potential boyfriend, but that could be quite costly.  The information available could be invaluable, no doubt, though still not a 100% guarantee that I’d be getting a boyfriend of the character and quality that I want.  Likewise, unless and until such comprehensive background check is done to allow the purchase of firearms, it’s pretty much a worthless concept.  But, same as the boyfriend, even then, it wouldn’t be a fail-safe system. 

But, alas… “Check” away, Big Brother.  Seems to me like you’re already doing that, and it’s not making any difference.   Whatever.  I’m sure you’ll continue relentlessly in your quest to make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms. 

Do I like seeing Sandy Hook, Columbine, Aurora stories on the news?  Don’t be absurd.  Of course not. I'm as horrified as the liberal person who thinks all guns should be banned for personal use. Neither do I like the murders or random drive-by shootings in everyday towns across America on pretty much a daily basis.  There is no argument that we all want the same thing:  For the violence to stop.  But the broader agenda here is that these violent crimes give government a “reason”, or the self-granted “authority” to regulate the sale and ownership of guns.  How many times does it have to be said?  It’s not the guns who kill the people.  It is (evil and/or crazy) people who kill people. Evil and/or crazy cannot be harnessed or controlled.  Even Big Brother can’t do that. Yes, we want the violence to stop.  But firearm stores and gun shows are not the place to make it happen.

I’m normally not a conspiracy theorist.  But even I am beginning to wonder if there isn’t some underlying selfish, evil intent on the part of the government to raise awareness of gun violence, just to promote their agenda?  That said, the gun-rights supporters need to scream just as loudly, and demand that media coverage include stories of how firearms (in the hands of private citizens) were used to thwart crimes and/or stop evil in its tracks.  I.e.  “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Thomas Jefferson (attributed) said it best: “When governments fear the people, there is liberty.  When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.  The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.” 

Hopefully, that last resort will never again come to pass.  However, the fact that we are a free nation is the result of that very thing happening.  Had our founding fathers and ancestors not been armed, we’d still be paying homage to a king across the pond, and subject to a monarchy. 

I submit that a better way to curb gun violence, or violence of any sort, would be to ensure our cities and towns were better able to afford adequate police protection and equipment, more justice in the criminal court system, and more resources to better educate our children.  Better educated children growing up in a safer environment will net more responsible adults.  Instead of using the faces of 20 little angels to promote your gun agenda, Uncle Sam, why not use those faces as motivating factors to invest time and resources so parents and teachers can help them be better children? 

Meanwhile, instead of using FBI manpower to perform background checks, why not let them  solve crimes, and investigate things like CIA leaks, or apathetic/worthless cabinet members, or finding the truth (instead of hiding it) about matters of national security?  (Wait - silly me.  Like THAT would ever happen!)

Background checks can indeed matter – if you’re applying for a job, or maybe a lease agreement…. But not to a bad person who wants a gun.  

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