Gun debate 101: Time for 'universal' background checks on buyers?
Expanded background checks may well be among Vice President Biden's recommended gun policy reforms in response to the Newtown school shootings. They'd be aimed at closing the 'gun show loophole.' Here's what that would mean.
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The top reason for a federal denial – 577,814 instances – is that the prospective gun buyer had been convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year (or a misdemeanor punishable by more than two years). In 143,852 cases the basis for denial pertained to domestic violence – either a restraining order or a misdemeanor conviction. Mental health, believed to be pertinent in the Virginia Tech massacre, the Colorado movie theater shooting, and the slaughter of innocents in Newtown, Conn., was the reason for an NICS denial in 10,180 cases.Skip to next paragraph
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Of course, it’s impossible to know whether denied individuals were subsequently able to obtain firearms through a private sale or theft.
What share of gun sales is private, without background checks?
A number is hard to come by. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which has spearheaded the drive for tougher gun laws, says at least 40 percent of firearms are acquired without background checks, citing a 1996 study done for the Police Foundation.
Who favors universal background checks, and why?
Gun control activists say it’s ludicrous to exempt some gun buyers from criminal background checks, and that public safety and common sense demand redress, preferably by a federal law. Absent federal action, they are pushing states to require unlicensed gun sellers at gun shows to run background checks on prospective buyers.
Private sales, especially at gun shows, are a chief way that criminals and other dangerous individuals get their hands on firearms, they argue. Criminals themselves may not necessarily buy at gun shows, but the folks they buy firearms from do, the argument goes. Being able to track a gun’s ownership is vital to identifying the traffickers who sell to criminals.
Besides the Brady Campaign and other gun-control advocacy groups, groups backing the idea of broadening background checks include the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the 700-strong Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
There are some signs that broadened background checks may be able to win political support from some moderate Second Amendment supporters. Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association and one of those who met with Mr. Biden, wrote Thursday on the group’s website in a plea for public civility, “Let’s agree to require the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) at gun shows.”
And Robert VerBruggen, writing on the The Corner blog for the conservative National Review Online, had this to say: “Universal background checks would help us hold people accountable for giving guns to criminals. When the police traced a gun to the original buyer, that person could no longer simply say he didn’t have it anymore; unless he’d documented a sale and conducted a check (or filed a police report claiming it was stolen), he could be investigated for an illegal transaction. This would make straw purchases more risky and prevent criminals from buying guns freely from private citizens.” Universal background checks, he concluded, “is certainly not the worst idea the gun-control crowd has come up with.”