Background checks a no-brainerBy: Rep. Peter King and Rep. Mike Thompson
February 12, 2013
Imagine if it were the Transportation Security Administration’s policy to let four out of 10 people bypass security at the airport. And imagine if TSA let passengers choose whether they’d go through security. Federal law prohibits this because if it didn’t, criminals, terrorists and others who are intent to do harm would easily slip through the cracks and board any plane they wanted.
With guns, there is no such law. It is estimated that four out of 10 gun buyers do not go through a background check when purchasing a firearm because federal law requires these checks only when someone buys a gun from a federally licensed dealer. This allows felons, domestic abusers and individuals with a history of dangerous mental illness to easily bypass the criminal background check system by purchasing firearms at gun shows, through private sellers, over the Internet or out of the trunks of cars.
Ninety-one percent of Americans, 88 percent of gun owners and 86 percent of National Rifle Association members believe this needs to change. They are correct.
Congress should immediately pass legislation requiring a background check for every gun sale, while respecting reasonable exceptions for cases such as gifts between immediate family members and temporary transfers for sporting purposes.
When background checks are used, they keep guns out of the hands of people we all agree shouldn’t have guns.
According to the FBI, completing the necessary paperwork for a background check takes mere minutes, and more than 91 percent of these electronic checks are completed instantaneously.
Since 1999, the federal background check system has blocked more than 1.7 million permit applications and gun sales to prohibited purchasers at federally licensed dealers. In 2010 alone, the system identified and denied more than 150,000 sales to criminals, domestic abusers, those with serious mental illnesses and other prohibited purchasers.
But the system works only if everyone is required to use it. We have no way of knowing whether in 2010 those same 150,000-plus prohibited purchasers bought a gun from a private seller or at a gun show after being denied at a federally licensed dealer.
It’s going to take a comprehensive approach that goes beyond universal background checks to meaningfully reduce and prevent gun violence.
We need to crack down on gun trafficking. In 2011, of the nearly 5,000 guns that were found at crime scenes in the state of New York and traced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, more than 3,300 were trafficked in from other states.
We need to improve mental health services. The gap between when a person starts to show signs of mental illness and when that person gets help can be up to a decade. That gap needs to be closed.
We need to prosecute prohibited buyers who attempt to buy guns. We also need to prosecute those who buy guns with the intent of giving the gun to someone who is prevented from owning one.
We need to get assault magazines off the street. These magazines carry more than 10 rounds and allow shooters to cause mass damage in a short amount of time.
But as we develop these comprehensive policy proposals and work to get them signed into law, we should do now what an overwhelming majority of Americans on all sides of the political spectrum agree on — make sure everyone who buys a gun goes through a background check.
Universal background checks are the easiest and most effective way to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, domestic abusers and the mentally ill. They do nothing to prevent law-abiding Americans from exercising their Second Amendment right to own firearms. And they make our schools, streets and communities safer.
Legislation requiring them is a no-brainer.
Rep. Peter King is a Republican from New York; Rep. Mike Thompson is a Democrat from California.}