Universal background checks — Congress, what are you waiting for?
Universal background checks should be federal law at this juncture of our nation’s history. The fact that universal background checks are not mandated can reasonably be described as a failure of representative democracy. In the wake of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (Parkland, Fla.), it’s reasonable to ask – could a universal background check system have prevented the entire incident?
Police responded 39 times to emergency calls at the shooter’s home within a seven-year time span. If universal background checks had been in place, the shooter would only be able to seek a firearm from a licensed dealer or a heavily regulated private seller. From either of those locations, it’s possible he would have been flagged and prohibited access to an AR-15 rifle. The deranged fantasies of a disaffected teen would have remained fantasies.
A law that enacts universal background checks, at its core, would demand more transparency and accountability from gun dealers. The single most comprehensive version of this law would require all firearm transfers to be conducted through licensed dealers. This way, background checks would be completed on all purchasers and all sales records would be maintained for potential review by law enforcement. There is also a version of this policy that allows for private sales with specific requirements. Vendors would be required to conduct background checks through a central law enforcement agency.
As you might expect, that agency would have access to both state and federal records of purchasers. Vendors would also need to maintain purchaser records for no less than ten years. As a final tenant of this policy, private sellers would have to report all firearm transfers to state and local law enforcement.Opponents of universal background checks (as few as they are), find the compulsory record keeping pieces of this policy to be highly objectionable, effectively, an infringement of their personal freedoms. Advocates of this policy (like myself) are likely to defend this policy as a preventative measure that can screen out potentially dangerous individuals and save lives.
Our national attention span, when it comes to political news, is noticeably brief. If the hourly “Breaking News” segments that appear on most mainstream media stations aren’t distracting enough — the tri-hourly news notifications on our smart phones serve to abbreviate our level of engagement with any single issue. We shouldn’t surrender the debate over universal background checks to allegations of Russian collaboration, scandalous adult film entertainers, or the latest congressional deadlock for one simple (and unique) reason. Most of us agree.
Recent polling of the American public, conducted by two credible universities, supports the idea of far-reaching support for universal background checks.
A study conducted by Quinnipiac University found near universal support for this policy change (their words not mine). Among 1,249 self-identified registered voters (22 percent Republican, 33 percent Democrat, Independent 39 percent, “Don’t Know” 6 percent), 97 percent of respondents approved of universal background checks, including 97 percent among gun owners.
In a second poll from Monmouth University, 83 percent of Americans support requiring comprehensive background checks for all gun purchasers (including private sales between two individuals). Granted, this poll was scaled to give respondents some wiggle room – 68 percent of respondents strongly supported it, while 15 percent somewhat supported it. Much like the Quinnipiac poll, support was found across the political spectrum as 91 percent of Democrats, 83 percent of independents, and 72 percent of Republicans support the measure to some degree.4
Even among NRA members surveyed, 69 percent of them supported comprehensive background checks.
In all honesty, universal background checks would prompt an exchange of sorts. Law-abiding purchasers would be accepting the loss of expedient transactions and anonymity from their status as gun owners. In return, our nation would have a genuine opportunity to mitigate (and eventualy cease) the pervasive trend of gun violence that has irreparably harmed our neighbors, friends, and families.
So many of our political arguments are contentious and without end. However, we do have a rare case of broad public consensus, all along the political spectrum, when it comes to this issue. Under the law of our Republic, consensus should be enough to prompt new legislation and the subsequent change of domestic gun policies.
Congress, what are you waiting for?
Kevin J. Pallotti is a leader at Sandy Hook Promise, a Connecticut-based organization whose mission is to prevent gun-related deaths due to crime, suicide and accidental discharge.
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