BIDS v. NICS
If we must have gun-buyer background checks to stop criminals,
at least do it without compiling massive records on the innocent.
A simple system called BIDS can do this,
BIDS: “Blind Identification Database System”
by Alan Korwin, Author
It sticks in my craw, and I know I’m not alone in recognizing, that under the guise of reducing violence, the Brady handgun violence prevention law has put every retail gun sale in the country under control of our federalized leaders.
The idea that I need federal permission to buy private property is outrageous to me. It is not what I think of when I think of freedom. The fact that the property could be used dangerously, or that criminals use the property illegally and immorally, does not adequately justify the usurpation of my freedoms, as it has done.
Despite the seemingly noble intent of the law to restrict criminals, criminals are largely unaffected. Criminals who want to arm themselves, which after all is what criminals do, simply arm themselves anyway, as they have done since time immemorial, and laugh at the law.
The biggest net effect of the law seems to be record keeping on innocent purchasers, to the tune of about ten million records a year. We are assured in law and in public statements from our federalized leaders that the records are not permanent, so they can’t be used against us. Few people believe that. There is no way to tell for sure. Past history suggests it’s false.
The next biggest effect is perhaps a federal jobs program. Precise figures are unavailable, but when the program was initiated, 900 clerks were hired to sit in FBI paid-for cubicles, answer phone calls from firearm dealers nationwide, and type the names of prospective buyers into a database for storage. And a background check. Countless support and technical jobs were created to run the FBI’s long-sought single-location citizen checking system. The Clarksville, W. Va., facility is now the heart of all FBI people tracking for the entire planet.
Initially, attorney general Janet Reno actually had the gall to say the quarter-billion-dollar computer they had built for the task could not erase records at all, let alone instantly, as the enabling act required. How dumb do they think we are. This from the team that now assures us records are not kept.
A minor effect, but an important one, is that the requirement to use the NICS background check system before a sale is completed, gives those in control the power to turn off gun sales nationwide (or regionally) at the flip of a switch. As they have done numerous times in the past, the system is turned off for maintenance, or for tests, or it goes down as such systems do, and gun sales grind to a complete halt until the feds turn the system back on. Again, not what I think of when I think of freedom.
The law prohibits the use of NICS if it is not running (18 USC §922(t)(5)), a pretty simple requirement. That provision was inserted by the NRA, who wisely sought such a safety valve in case the system was never built, a cool trick that would have simply ended gun sales permanently right then and there. (NRA and many others have little faith that the anti-rights forces will play fair.) But BATFE and the FBI have completely intimidated gun dealers into stopping business when the system is down (or turned off), under threat of revoking their licenses. Terrified dealers, who are quasi-government agents, comply despite the law on their side.
Indeed, some criminals, along with scads of innocent people who have common names similar to criminals (such as Jose Rodriguez, Tyrell Jackson or Joe Smith), and people whose records are faulty for a dozen good reasons, are actually denied buying firearms, paying the taxes and supporting their local merchants.
Of the criminals who are denied though, virtually none are arrested, according to the FBI, BATFE and the White House (I checked on this personally, they all gave the same answer) because: The Brady law is neither designed nor intended to increase the annual number of federal prosecutions. Don’t that beat all. There are other fascinating reasons too:
Any doubts you may have harbored about the true intent of the law may be found in those reasons, plus the jobs “created,” the contracts issued (calls are now handled by contract call centers), and of course the valuable innocent-and-guilty-person tracking features.
So Why BIDS?
Despite all this, even a vigorous pro-rights person such as myself is rankled and can see a fly in the ointment when any wanted fugitive, illegal-alien interloper or desperado, parolee, released multiple murderer, known rapist, armed robbery suspect, diagnosed psycho, jihadi or other misfits can just stroll into a neighborhood gun shop, do nothing but plop down some stolen cash, and walk out with guns and ammo.
Yes, many of them would figure out how to arm themselves regardless, but making it that easy through free-market dynamics just seems, well, less than kosher.
True, the nation thrived and prospered under that system until 1968, when pure honor-system paperwork was introduced under the Gun Control Act. Then the “handgun” computerized NICS background check law was enacted in 1994. And finally, the fully activated secretive “all-guns provisions” came online in 1998.
Now, you need federal permission to buy a gun at retail. The feds and many Americans want to see that expanded to federal permission for any gun sale or any transfer at all -- from a friend, parent, close relative, distant relative, advertisement, collector, retiree, even from a private individual at a routine gun show.
My libertarian friends often enjoy attacking me because I have a pragmatic bone or two in my body, a feature many of them lack, to their unrecognized detriment. Whatever I may prefer philosophically, it seems unlikely to me that retail firearm sales will revert to pre-1968 freedom any time soon.
Given that premise, the background check should do as little harm to the innocent as possible, right? It should vigorously prevent the federalized authorities from compiling records on gun owners. The system should not allow feds to turn off gun sales whenever they want to. The system should cost as little as possible, and it should work.
The BIDS system, proposed by Brian Puckett and Russ Howard, does all of that. It introduces enormous savings, removes a wasteful mass of bureaucracy and operates as well or better than the current system. The BIDS proposal isn’t perfect or bug free, but it so far outshines the current federal control of our rights, and saves so much taxpayer money, it should be adopted without delay.
When someone asks you, “Don’t you support background checks for gun sales?” you can now answer, “Of course, but not as currently designed, because the NICS system compromises our freedom, is sometimes turned off arbitrarily, registers innocent American gun owners, could be used for illegal purposes, bloats the bureaucracy and can be done better for several hundred million dollars per year less. Would you support that?”
Puckett and Howard conceived of BIDS, scoped out its basics, and published their results back in 2001. It made some noise but got lost in the hubbub of current events, and a Republican-controlled Congress that did almost nothing proactive for gun rights.
At a recent on-air debate, when someone asked, “Well, you do support background checks for gun purchases, don’t you?” I was at a loss for a compelling answer. I sure don’t approve of what we have now, the harm it has done to privacy, the data monster it’s building and the bureaucracy it has created. A simple “No” seems way radical and is impossible to explain in the brief moments a modern broadcast discussion occupies. And yes, I am uncomfortable with simply allowing every certifiable wacko and dirtbag to go gun shopping at retail.
So the answer must be “Yes, but not as it’s currently handled,” for all the reasons I’ve outlined. The answer has to be, “Yes, if it’s the BIDS system.” That will generate a thoughtful discussion that starts with the obvious, “BIDS? What’s that?”
I may not agree with everything BIDS’ designers have to say philosophically, but then I don’t agree with anybody on everything. And maybe the system needs a bit of work, though not too much, see what you think. And statute language isn’t drafted yet. And this is not to say the political climate is there, or will be in the near term, to get to BIDS. But it’s critically important to have BIDS on the table as an option, to point out the dangers of NICS, and to provide a viable common sense, economical alternative. The fact that it saves taxpayers a fortune every year is pure gravy.
Isn't it too risky?
The argument will be made that putting the list of hardened misfits (well, at least, prohibited possessors) into the hands of gun dealers across the country is somehow too risky to do. But wait -- we trust these people to sell guns to the public, we can't trust them with a list of names?
And it's not a list at all. It is an encrypted database and cannot be randomly viewed or scrolled through. It can only show a matching name (or a "no-match" message) when a dealer types in the prospective gun-buyer's name (plus some other selected identifier) into the BIDS search engine. If there's no match, it tells the dealer that this person may proceed with the firearm purchase. There is no risk associated with distribution of the data.
A dealer's obligation to comply is precisely the same under BIDS as under NICS, that doesn't change. There are prison cells waiting for failure to use the system or for using it for anything but its intended purpose. The list itself is encrypted and password protected to at least the level of international banking transactions. Plus, the list does not identify the reason a person is listed, and contains virtually no personal data. The same robust appeal and data-fixing requirements in place under NICS continue under BIDS, for people inevitably listed falsely.
The FBI and other agencies will have numerous reasons why BIDS can't or shouldn't be implemented. This is a good thing, and expected. That's because they will obviously resist relinquishing power they currently wield. That’s because the very bad things about the system have a very heady appeal from their side of the fence. That’s because they have all the inside information and devilish details needed to make BIDS run smoothly. Their objections will be the problems to overcome, the details that need solution, and must come from those people currently in charge.
And THAT'S the biggest obstacle we face in ending the excessive spending and potentials for abuse that is NICS. The people in charge relinquish a ton of power, and they aren't expected to do that graciously. They never do. This plan could be solid gold -- which it practically is by comparison -- and they would strenuously object. But for the sake of American freedom, they must relent. Save the money. Protect us from abuse. Keep guns out of the wrong hands as effectively as before. Do the right thing. End the era of NICS and bring on the dawn of BIDS, for all the right reasons.
BIDS: Blind Identification Database System
A system to prevent illegal firearm sales and illegal gun owner registration
by Brian Puckett and Russ Howard
In the 20th century, gun registration and other gun controls in various countries facilitated the murders of an estimated 169 million people or more by leaving them defenseless against criminal governments, in a phenomenon known as democide. Peoples’ own governments, not criminals or accidents, are the greatest source of homicide known to humanity.
In the United States, the existence of publicly held or even privately held lists of gun owners could enable a future tyrannical government to confiscate firearms and imprison or murder actual or suspected gun owners. Nearly every genocide in the last century began with gun lists, gun registrations and gun confiscations. The stunning video Innocents Betrayed documents this fact as a precursor to one atrocity after another.
The National Instant Background Check System (NICS), implemented by the Brady law, makes it possible for the government to illegally build dangerous gun-buyer lists, even though that is specifically banned by the 1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act. Whether those lists are being compiled is the subject of much debate, not subject to convincing verification either way, and the very ability is a threat to American freedom.
In addition, the Gun Control Act of 1968 requires gun dealers to keep records that could be seized, and a national registry from those records, turned in by dealers going out of business, is rumored to flow into a database technically banned by law. Again, confirmation of that either way, is unreliable. Besides normal dealer closures since 1968, the Clinton administration drove two thirds of America's dealers out of business through law and regulatory changes. By 2001, over 100 million of these records were reportedly in federal hands.
To avoid gun registration and protect the Constitution, while still enabling gun dealers to avoid selling to criminals, the authors propose to replace NICS with a Blind Identification Database System, BIDS.
Each gun dealer would have a list of all persons prohibited from buying guns. Instead of a government background check, dealers themselves would check potential buyers against the list. BIDS would list firearms disabilities, but not the reasons for disabilities. Since buyer names would not go to the government, it could not build dangerous registries. Dealers would no longer have to retain records that identify buyers, and would be prohibited from doing so without disclosure to customers. This prevents the government from registering buyers by seizing dealer records.
BIDS will be computer based and simply automatically updated online, like antiviral programs or software updates. It would be encrypted for privacy, and like the current NICS system, could only be used lawfully by dealers for checking prospective buyers. Violations in its use, which can be easily verified, jeopardizes the dealer’s license to operate.
Internet access is convenient but not essential, since the list could also be provided on disk or even in hardcopy, updated by mail. Because criminal sentences are public information, the identity of nearly all prohibited persons does not present a serious privacy issue, and the data can only be used for the intended purpose.
A percentage of buyers may initially be wrongly rejected by BIDS, as they are by NICS, and robust rights-restoration and record-correction features are integral parts of the system. BIDS would end the potential for registration endemic under the current system.
Because the dealers use the system at the point of sale, the huge federal staffs employed by NICS could be disbanded, yielding significant budget savings. The effort needed to maintain the BIDS list, which is part-and-parcel of routine law enforcement work, is already accomplished primarily in the NCIC and III systems, and represents no additional cost.
BIDS does the exact same job as NICS, with less effort from dealers (it eliminates the 10 million phone calls currently required annually), with identical dealer-compliance requirements and punishments for failure to comply, saves taxpayers buckets of money, and prevents the very dangerous prospect of government compiled lists of innocent gun owners.
BIDS is the right policy choice as a replacement for the antiquated and expensive NICS system, and should be implemented without delay.
Read the original Puckett and Howard paper here.
Key differences between BIDS and NICS:
Encourage politicians to pass more laws...
on gun laws and other topics.