Washington – Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy want some of the nation’s largest sporting goods stores to wait for the FBI to complete background checks on gun purchasers in all cases – and hope customers boycott those stores if they don’t.
Blumenthal and Murphy have signed letters to Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops and EZ Pawn asking them to voluntarily close a what they call a loophole in the federal background check law. This “default to proceed” provision allows retailers to sell an applicant a gun if the FBI has not responded to a background check request within 72 hours.
“We are asking consumers to shop with their feet and their pocketbooks,” and avoid stores that don’t wait for a background check to be completed Blumenthal said.
Murphy said, “Listen, I don’t think people should be shopping in these stores unless they make a commitment to require background checks before they sell guns.”
“But if you do walk into Bass Pro Shops or Cabela’s, ask, ask the clerk, ask the store manager,” Murphy said. “Ask them why they won’t adopt this common-sense policy that will keep us safe and save lives.”
Connecticut’s gun laws require that an FBI background check is completed before a license to purchase a gun is issued. But that isn’t the case in most states.
The issue of the three-day waiting period is being debated because Dylann Roof, who is accused of killing nine people at a black church in Charleston, S.C., last month, was able to purchase the gun used in the attack only because the FBI needed more than three days to investigate his criminal record. Roof had been recently arrested.
The senators said that the vast majority of background checks are completed within minutes, but some complicated ones take longer, and those are often the ones that deserve the most scrutiny.
“The perpetrator’s exploitation of this loophole is not an anomaly,” the senators wrote on their letter. “In the last five years, the ‘default to proceed’ loophole has led gun retailers to proceed with 15,729 firearm sales to “prohibited people” – individuals who were deemed ineligible to purchase a firearm once their background checks were completed.”
Blumenthal and Murphy’s letter to the retailers also was signed by eleven other Senate Democrats. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, who represents Newtown, was also promoting the campaign with Blumenthal and Murphy at a press conference in Hartford Monday.
“Vote with your feet. Vote with your dollars,” Esty said.
The Connecticut lawmakers pointed to Walmart’s example. The nation’s largest retailer will not sell a weapon until a bacground check is complete.
Large retailers like Walmart, Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops and EZ Pawn, may be able to afford the loss of a gun sale, but that may be more difficult for smaller stores like the one that sold Roof his weapon.
Blumenthal and Murphy hope to introduce a bill by the end of the summer that would address the three-day “default to proceed” provision and other aspects of the federal background check process.
But Blumenthal said a “national consumer awareness campaign would be as effective as legislation” in requiring retailers to wait for the FBI to complete a background check before selling a gun.
There is a Cabela’s in East Hartford and a Bass Pro Shop is under construction in Bridgeport. The retailers did not respond to requests for comment.
Gaps in mental health screening
Under current law, a prospective gun purchaser would fail a background check if the FBI determines that person has a criminal record, has been “adjudicated as a mental defective” who is determined by a court to be a danger to himself – or herself – or others, or was “committed to a mental institution.”
Despite a judge’s order sending him to a psychiatric hospital in 2008, John Russell Houser was able to purchase a handgun that he used to kill two women at a movie theater in Lafayette, La., recently. Houser then killed himself,
The purchase of the gun he used was not blocked by a background check because his case never reached the crucial stage of having a judge rule on his mental competence, a process called adjudication, which is required before someone can be involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility.
The federal background check law expressly excludes voluntary commitments.
In addition, a fraction of people with mental health issues seek help, and there is poor reporting by many states of mental health records to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS.)
Then there are situations like that involving Adam Lanza, the shooter who killed 20 children and six adults in Newtown in 2012, whereby guns legally purchased by another are available to a dangerously mentally ill person.
Some federal lawmakers, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., say mental health reporting should be strengthened.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, also have released a report, Fatal Gaps: How Missing Records in the Federal Background Check System Put Guns in the Hands of Killers.
Connecticut denies gun sales to those who are involuntarily committed.
But because sales of most guns must be licensed by the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, that state agency can consider the mental health of a prospective purchaser before issuing a license.
Gun laws in California and New Jersey also bar gun sales to some who have been voluntarily committed.
But mental health advocates are opposing more expansive rules on the federal level, saying that could keep gun owners who need mental health help from seeking it.
Connecticut Mirror reporter Keith Phaneuf contributed to this story