Universal Background Checks, A Sensible Step Aimed at Reducing Gun Violence
Gun laws, including universal background checks, adversely affect only law-abiding citizens. We have heard this refrain from certain legislators on Capitol Hill, opponents of laws aimed at reducing gun violence, and the NRA. Consider that statement in relation to the following information.
What does the term “universal background checks” require? Under the current federal law, purchasers of guns from licensed gun dealers must submit to a background check. A loophole in the federal law exists, however, which does not require background checks on individuals who purchase guns in a private transaction.
A private transaction is a purchase from anyone other than a licensed gun dealer, whether it is an individual at a gun show, online, or on the corner of a street. Legislation requiring universal background checks attempts to put all guns sales on parity by requiring a background check on the gun purchaser except if the sale or transfer is between immediate family members or licensed dealers.
Many law-abiding citizens purchase their guns from gun dealers and willingly submit to background checks. What is a background check? I called a local gun dealer to inquire about the type of information required to perform a background check on me, the length of time a background check would take, and who would retain my personal information. The answer was amazingly simple and direct.
To conduct the background check, a state identification card is required. In my case, a driver’s license was sufficient. Based on my driver’ license information, the gun dealer would contact the FBI who would cross check my driver’s license information against their data base. The duration of the delay prior to the FBI decision could be as little as 3 minutes or up to three days. The FBI will deny the request to approve the gun sale if the background check reveals that the purchaser is prohibited under the law from purchasing a gun. The gun dealer must retain personal information about the buyer for the duration of time gun dealer remains in business. The gun dealer is precluded from disseminating or sharing the information obtained in conjunction with the background check. I was also informed that the FBI is required to periodically purge its files of the personal information received about gun purchasers.
Gun owners who purchase guns from a licensed gun dealer undergo a background check. If a background check reveals that the prospective buyer is a convicted felon, has been convicted of a violent domestic crime, or has been adjudged by a court to be dangerously mentally ill, then the prospective buyer will not be able to purchase a gun from the licensed gun dealer. Yet, those same individuals can purchase a gun in a private transaction, such as online or at a gun show.
If universal background checks were required, online and gun show sales, as well as other private sales, would necessitate a background check. Not only would universal background checks reduce the accessibility and availability of guns to those who are prohibited from owning a gun, but also such checks may even deter individuals from attempting to get a gun.
So, how does the NRA substantiate their position that universal background checks adversely affect lawful gun owners? They argue that law-abiding gun owners may unknowingly break a law by transferring their gun to another, that background checks are an invasion of privacy, and that criminals do not submit to background checks
The NRA argument ignores that we already have background checks on gun sales through licensed gun dealers that account for 60% of all gun sales. We have decided that a small, temporary loss of privacy is justified to prevent the substantial threat posed by criminals, mentally ill, or violent individuals purchasing a gun from licensed gun dealers. Logically, a similar temporary loss of privacy due to background checks on other gun sales, such as at gun shows, on the internet, and other coverable private transactions is also justified.
It is also unlikely that a law will be written that traps the unwitting gun owner in a criminal transaction. Laws can be written with clearly defined exceptions for transfers made by law-abiding citizens so that they are not in danger of inadvertently committing a crime though a gun sale or transfer. The effectiveness of the present loophole for private transactions establishes our success at drafting legislation that excludes certain transactions.
As for the NRA statement that violent individuals do not submit to background checks, such a statement is true. What is not true is the remainder of their argument that therefore, universal background checks will not stop them from purchasing guns.
Violent individuals do purchase guns from places that do not require background checks, like gun shows, and the internet. Therefore, let’s remove these alternative points of purchase as an option for violent felons, violent domestic abusers, and mentally dangerous individuals by requiring background checks for purchases from such places.
We need universal background checks as a way to deter and prevent incidents like Columbine, Newtown, Aurora, and others. We want to create a society that reflects the type of world in which we seek to live and to raise our children; a world that uses common sense and thoughtful solutions rather than fear and violence to solve its problems.
We can begin with the issue of gun violence and universal background checks as a first step.
Contact by email your U.S representative and Senators today to voice your support for universal background checks. Urge them to vote with the will of 91% of American voters who support universal background checks.