40 Seconds and 40 Percent: The Wisconsin Spa Tragedy and the Simple Case for Background Checks

Forty seconds. That's all it would have taken to potentially save the lives of three women at the Azana Spa and Salon in Brookfield, Wisconsin this past weekend.  Forty seconds is all it would have taken to keep a community and our nation from suffering yet another mass shooting in a place that we should all rightly expect to be safe.

You see, 40 seconds is the amount of time it takes the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) call center to approve the majority of "Brady criminal background checks" on anybody who wants to buy a gun. But in America, millions of people every year, including those with criminal and dangerous intentions, can buy a gun without ever having to go through such a records check.

That is because of the 40 percent. Sometimes you will hear this problem referred to as the "gun show loophole."  But that is a dramatic understatement.  The reality is a full 40 percent of all legal gun sales in our nation require no background check at all. That includes every gun sale that takes place outside a federally licensed firearm dealer -- an estimated millions of guns sold every year, thousands of guns sold every day, not only at gun shows, but also through private sales arranged over the Internet or through classifieds (basically a permanent, massive national gun show). 

And what that 40 percent means is thousands of guns every day could be, and too often are, falling into the hands of criminals, the dangerously mentally ill and domestic abusers, like the man responsible for this weekend's tragedy in Wisconsin. A judge had handed him a restraining order and then he went out and bought a gun over the Internet without any background check.  And, unfortunately, stories like this are not unusual, and they are all just as preventable.

We are better than a nation that allows 32 people to be murdered by guns every day -- especially while clear solutions exist that would save many of those lives -- especially while those solutions are so easy and unobtrusive that they take only 40 seconds.

A recent Frank Luntz poll showed that 74% of NRA members support criminal background checks. They know that criminal background checks have nothing to do with the Second Amendment right of law-abiding citizens to own guns. Some of us may love to hunt. None of us want to live in a nation where women are murdered in cold blood in a spa.

And, make no mistake, this is a conversation the American public wants to have. Blue state or red, Democrat or Republican, gun owner or not, we all want the murders to stop. Clearly solutions like background checks provide fertile ground for us all to come together around our most deeply shared values.

The reality is, as much sense as it might make to apply criminal background checks to all gun sales, as much as it is supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans, as many lives as those 40 seconds would save, nothing is being done by our elected leaders.

This is a reality that's it's up to all of us to change.

We are better than this, and we know it. And it is time to make our elected officials show us that they know it too.