About Background Checks

The basic argument: 

Say . . .

It is absurd to allow guns to be sold to felons or the dangerously mentally ill. That’s why current law requires that no gun can be sold by a licensed gun dealer without a criminal background check. But millions of guns are sold by unlicensed sellers at gun shows and through Internet sites with no background check. We need to strengthen current law to cover all gun sales. The few minutes it takes to complete a computerized check will certainly save lives. How can we not do that? 

Why . . .

Since 1968, federal law has banned the possession of firearms by convicted felons, domestic abusers, and people who are dangerously mentally ill. The Brady law, enacted in 1993, requires a criminal background check before any licensed dealer can sell any firearm. (Some states require more.) A National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) for gun purchases, operated by the FBI, began operation in 1998. The White House says that because private sales are exempted, “as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check.” That is true but it’s more effective (and more accurate) to say “millions.” Requiring a background check for every gun sale is simply common sense, and that’s why 9 of 10 Americans support it.

Pro-gun argument:  “Criminals will get guns anyway.”

Say . . .

The federal background check law has blocked more than 1.5 million illegal gun sales over the past 14 years. It works. The problem is that the law doesn’t apply to private sales, so felons can avoid a background check and get any kind of gun, no questions asked. Both the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the national Fraternal Order of Police have endorsed mandatory, universal background checks because they know it will save lives. It’s time to close the private sales loophole. 

Why . . .

Nobody suggests this law will stop all criminals. To be successful, the law doesn’t have to. No law stops all crime! It’s simply common sense to block as many illegal sales as possible. Many conservatives and conservative groups including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, support universal background checks because it will save lives.

Pro-gun argument:  “I shouldn’t have to get a background check to give a rifle to my son or grandson.”

Say . . .

The legislation contains exceptions for transfers between parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, siblings, and for inheritances. 

Pro-gun argument:  “Background checks will give the federal government the data to create a gun registration list, and that’s what they will do.”

Say . . .

There is nothing in the background check proposal that creates a registry. In fact, existing law forbids the federal government from establishing a gun registration list. Specifically, every time the background check system is used and the gun purchase is approved, the government is required to destroy all records about the purchaser.

Pro-gun argument:  “Even if not in this current legislation, background checks will lead to gun registration and confiscation later on.”

Say . . .

I support the 2nd Amendment and would fight against any future overreaching legislation. But it is not realistic to oppose something on the grounds that it might someday lead to something else. The fact is, even gun owners overwhelmingly favor requiring a criminal background check of anyone purchasing a gun. What it will lead to is fewer firearm deaths.

Pro-gun argument:  “The proposed background check would violate the 2nd Amendment.”

Say . . .

I support the 2nd Amendment. The fact is, we've had a federal background check for nearly 20 years and state background checks long before that. Courts uniformly rule they are constitutional. The NRA itself has conceded the point by repeatedly endorsing a variety of background check proposals. The constitutional question is settled.

Why . . .

In 1999, the National Rifle Association endorsed background checks for all firearm sales at all gun shows. The NRA previously endorsed background checks for all firearm sales through all licensed dealers in 1988, 1989, and 1993. Background checks can’t be okay a few years ago and then unconstitutional today. If a pro-gun activist argues that the 2008 Heller Supreme Court ruling changes things, see "How to rebut common pro-gun arguments" below.

NEXT:  About Military-Style Assault Weapons

 

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