Before we continue with the many topics within the hunting, fishing, foraging, and other outdoor adventures it is important to keep an eye on developing political issues that may affect them. With that in mind, I'm going to take a little time to explain what the current bills in the process of being made into law are and why they are something we should care about. I'll go into far greater detail in a few moments, but for now, these bills will require a federal background check for all firearm purchases. This is important because if you intend to use a firearm for any of the outdoor adventures you have planned you will at some point purchase or sell a firearm.
What is the universal background check bill?
The first thing we need to make clear is that there are two bills involved in this discussion, not just one. The first bill H.R. 8 titled the "Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021.” Though it's titled bipartisan the vote that passed it in the house was split very closely along party lines at 227 to 203. The text of H.R. 8 can be read here. Essentially this bill states that for any sale of a firearm the current owner must take the firearm to a licensed gun dealer and transfer possession of it to the dealer while the dealer conducts a background check with the National Instant Background Check System (NICS).
The bill is specific that it does not matter how the two people in the transaction are connected, such as parent and child, for example, they must still go through the process of a background check. Depending on where the two parties go to conduct this check it will cost them an additional $20 to $50 to process the paperwork. It also adds that the original owner must not allow the transaction to take place unless they "have no reason to believe the transferee will use or intends to use the firearm in a crime or is prohibited from possessing a firearm under state or federal law."
H.R. 8 does however make allowances for gifts between family and temporary transfers such as loaning a firearm for a day at the gun range, short hunting trip, pest control, or law enforcement and similar companies issuing firearms to employees. In these cases, there is no need for a background check. But again it is the responsibility of the transferor to ensure they "have no reason to believe the transferee will use or intends to use the firearm in a crime or is prohibited from possessing a firearm under state or federal law." The final exemptions allowed in this bill are for trustees or executors of an estate being able to possess the firearm and transfer it to the new owners, or for someone who is taking possession of the firearm in an emergency to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. However, in the last case, it is a temporary possession that must end as soon as there is no longer a threat for imminent death or great bodily harm.
The final sections of H.R. 8 specifically state that it is not forming any kind of national registry as evidenced by the following section.
(c) Rules Of Interpretation.—Nothing in this Act, or any amendment made by this Act, shall be construed to—
(1) authorize the establishment, directly or indirectly, of a national firearms registry; or
(2) interfere with the authority of a State, under section 927 of title 18, United States Code, to enact a law on the same subject matter as this Act.
The reality however is that there is no way to enforce this new bill even if it passes the Senate and is signed by the President. For example, how would anyone know if Bob sold his rifle to his best friend Stan without conducting a background check? If there is no registry there would be no way to prove in court that ownership of the firearm transferred from one person to another. It becomes even murkier if the transfer takes place within the family. If Bob sold his rifle to his brother John, how would we prove it? They could both simply claim it was a gift. You might say well the sheriff watched John hand Bob some money. They could easily make an excuse for the money such as a late birthday gift, or repaying a loan. This of course highlights the fallacy of most current gun control legislation.
Criminals do not obey the law. If someone who is not honest wants to find a way around a law they will find it. This law will only affect the decent honest law-abiding gun owners who have no interest in criminal activity anyway. That is not to say that there should be no gun control, I firmly believe there are some people who have no business with firearms. However, the vast majority of current legislation appears to many people as being less about preventing crime than it does about finding a way to control more people by preventing them from having a method to defend themselves.
The second bill involved in this discussion is H.R. 1446 titled the "Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021." This bill found here is focused on the length of time which is required to wait for the FBI to conduct their background check before the transaction is allowed to take place. Under current law, a dealer must only wait 3 days for the background check to be completed before transferring the firearm. H.R. 1446 extends that wait time to up to 20 days. It's also important to note that only days upon which the state offices are open count toward that 20 days. So during times with several weekends and/or holidays where the state offices are closed, it's possible for a transaction to be on hold longer than 30 days. This is important because after 30 days the paperwork for a background check and firearm transfer is destroyed and the whole process must begin again. I would assume this will also incur another full fee by the dealer conducting the background check.
So why do we care?
That is going to be a little subjective to some extent. To some people, the 2nd amendment is almost sacrosanct and any law that limits it is an infringement and unconstitutional. To others, it is an old-fashioned waste that needs to be eliminated. To still others it is a roadblock on their path to controlling the population and establishing their dream government, be it socialist, communist, totalitarian dictatorship, monarchy, etc... As a man who has taken an oath to defend the constitution against all enemies both foreign and domestic and who has a long line of family that has done the same I hope the number of people in the third camp are very few and on the mostly powerless fringes. I choose to believe that the vast majority of people who are pushing gun control are good people who genuinely just want to help society be a safer place.
There are many sad realities that these people simply refuse to see, however. First, as I pointed out earlier criminals don't obey the law. Evil people with bad intentions will always find a way to do evil things. The rise in attacks using knives in Great Britain is evidence of this. Things have degenerated so far there are places it is illegal to carry any blade in public. Never mind the fact that as written that means every person who buys a new chef's knife at the store is then breaking the law on the way home with it. But even here in the U.S., there was a recent bomb attack at a school or the crock pots used during the Boston Marathon. Humanity has found a way to kill each other since the dawn of time. A pencil, a pair of scissors, a compass used for art or math, even a person's bare hands can be used to commit a heinous act. But I'm running down a rabbit trail here.
This law matters to hunters specifically for several reasons. First, if you're a new hunter and you're planning to purchase a firearm you must consider the time it will take to comply with the law that is in place at whatever time you plan to hunt. For now, it may only take 3 days, but if these laws are enacted you will need to ensure you decide what firearm you will buy, where you will buy it, and get all the legal paperwork concluded well before the season starts. For example, right now in North Carolina statewide turkey season opens Saturday, April 10th, 2021. In theory, you would still have time even if the new law were in effect. However, youth season opens on Saturday, April 3rd, 2021. If the new law were in effect there is a chance that the background check might not be complete by opening day and you might miss your chance to take a young new hunter out before all the adults are pressuring the birds.
Another factor to consider is how these laws may affect a hunter's choice of weapon. Some hunters prefer archery already because it takes more skill, but if firearms become more difficult to acquire more hunters may join them. Some may even choose to switch to more unregulated weapons like black powder or even air guns. It's my understanding, though I am still researching, that air guns even the large bore variety are not classified as firearms. If that is the case you could potentially buy a large bore fully automatic .50 cal air rifle and take it hunting with no background check. While the cost may or may not be an issue, there is a chance that as firearms get more and more regulated many will simply choose these alternatives. These choices have already begun influencing how the hunting regulations are written each season.
Ultimately it is the responsibility of the hunter to ensure they are complying with each and every law and regulation that may apply to them. If there is any doubt about a regulation or law a variety of resources are at the hunter's disposal. First, the regulations digest printed by the state each year will be your best resource. You should have received a copy when you bought your hunting license. Even if it's damaged or lost you can download a free digital copy from the state's website here. Next, you can call the local wildlife enforcement agent for the country or game land on which you will be hunting. If they don't know the answer to your question they may know where you can find it or be willing to find it for you and call you back. Finally, there are a wide variety of hunting-related organizations where hunters can gather to share knowledge and pool their resources. Let's all do our part to obey the law and pass on this wonderful hobby or way of life to future generations!