Requiring Background Checks for All Gun Sales is Just Common Sense

My last post brought out a lot of good questions about how a uniform national law requiring background checks would work. Many people expressed skepticism, which I think is natural considering how much the NRA has invested in muddying the discussion with misinformation and phantom threats over the years. So let's talk about the reality of our gun laws for a minute.

Currently, there is no uniform federal law requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales. I'm not talking about a federal gun registry, I'm not talking about banning anything -- I'm only talking about requiring a quick and easy background check to make sure that guns aren't being sold to violent criminals and terrorists. Historically, 91 percent of these background checks take less than 10 minutes to complete. It's not invasive, it's not intrusive, and it doesn't stop honest citizens from buying or owning guns.

A uniform background check process could be as easy as having a buyer obtain a receipt for a background check that you would ask to see before you sold someone a gun -- the same background check most employers and apartment leasing agencies require. The background check receipt would assure you, the seller, that the person you're selling a gun isn't likely to head down to the local bank or high school to commit a violent crime. It would also discourage criminals and terrorists from trying to obtain weapons from honest citizens at places like guns shows.

Clearly, some criminals will still buy guns illegally on the black market. That's an unfortunate fact. But just because bad people exist doesn't mean that we should just give up and do nothing to stop criminals and terrorists from buying and selling weapons to each other. A reasonable uniform national law would help prevent access to guns by criminals and terrorists, and make it much simpler for law enforcement to convict the bad guys who buy, sell and use guns illegally.

There are well documented cases of criminals and terrorists exploiting the background check loophole at gun shows and flea markets, and federal legislation to close this loophole has continually been blocked by the NRA. In 2001, the Washington Post reported that,

In Michigan, Ali Boumelhem, a member of Hezbollah, was convicted in September of conspiring to smuggle guns and ammunition to Lebanon. Federal agents testified that they saw him buying weapons at three gun shows. In Florida, Conor Claxton, accused of being linked to the IRA, testified last year that he and others had bought hand grenades and high-powered ammunition at gun shows to smuggle to Northern Ireland. In Texas, Muhammad Asrar, a Pakistani who pleaded guilty to immigration violations and illegal possession of ammunition, told authorities that he had been purchasing handguns, rifles and submachine guns at gun shows for seven years.*

Unfortunately, law enforcement has been heavily restricted from regulating gun shows, flea markets and other private sales and reporting crime gun trace data even for adjudicated cases involving gun traffickers.

That said, in 1999 the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) reported that approximately half of gun sales are private and only 1 percent of Federally Licensed gun dealers sold 57 percent of guns traced to crime. Instead of encouraging the BATF to put pressure on the small but significant number of "dirty" dealers, the NRA has been pressuring Congress to further protect criminals by restricting the BATF from sharing any crime gun trace data with other law enforcement agencies. Under the NRA's system, criminals have more rights than law abiding gun owners.

Thanks to the NRA, our current national gun policy is to provide unrestricted access to an unlimited number of easily concealable weapons without even an ID or criminal background check unless you buy from one of the federally licensed gun dealers who only sell about 50 percent of the guns in the US each year. The NRA's extremist misinterpretation of the Second Amendment says that convicted criminals and suspected terrorists have the same gun rights as law abiding citizens. That's just crazy.

Local and national law enforcement are prevented from effectively regulating private sales and gun shows or effectively tracing and sharing critical crime data between agencies. Consequently, the current national system is set up to require background checks at dealers where most law abiding folks buy guns, while protecting criminals and terrorists who can easily and legally buy guns from private individuals without detection. A uniform national law requiring background checks for all gun sales is just common sense, and all law abiding gun owners should demand that Congress and the President enact such Legislation.

*Washington Post, "Gun Shows and Terrorists," December 16, 2001.