A background check for every gun sale
Centerfor American Progress: Almost all Americans agree that certain dangerous individuals—such as violent criminals, the mentally ill, drug abusers, and perpetrators of domestic violence—should not be permitted to own firearms. Under current federal law, such people are in fact barred from possessing a firearm. The only way to determine whether an individual is prohibited from purchasing a firearm under state or federal law is to conduct an instant background check.
Requiring that all gun sales be predicated on a criminal background check is an effective means of keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals — but only if the background check system itself functions properly. Since the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was passed in 1993 to mandate all licensed gun dealers perform background checks, the FBI has conducted more than 150 million background checks in connection with gun sales, blocking gun transfers in more than 1.7 million instances. But for the system to work better, states must provide the federal government with the names of all the individuals who are prohibited from owning firearms for inclusion in the nationwide database.
Though this seems like a common-sense action, states have been slow to provide these records, particularly regarding individuals barred from owning guns due to mental illness. Ten states have failed to provide any mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and 18 others have submitted fewer than 100 records since the creation of the system in 1999. Without states’ cooperation in submitting these records to the database, individuals who are dangerously mentally ill and pose a substantial threat to the community—such as Jared Lee Loughner, who killed six people and wounded 13 others, including former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), in a 2011 spree killing in Tucson, Arizona; and Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in a 2007 spree killing at Virginia Tech—will continue to be able to obtain guns. Federal agencies and states should be strongly encouraged to share information about disqualified individuals and penalized for failing to provide these crucial records for inclusion in the database.
The effort to get records into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System can be strengthened in four important ways:
- Toughening penalties on states that do not provide records to the database
- Requiring federal agencies to affirm that they have provided required records to the database
- Clarifying the definition of “mentally ill” to ensure that individuals with a serious mental illness are prohibited from purchasing guns
- Requiring background checks for all gun sales