Known To Be Violent and Mentally Disturbed, the Parkland MSD High School Killer Passed His Background Check. So Did 81% of Mass Killers Since 1998. What Does This Tell Us About Background Checks?Thursday, March 1st, 2018
February 28, 2018
by Elliot Fineman
Founder and CEO
National Gun Victims Action Council
The principle discussed below is part of a series excerpted from my book to be published in June 2018 about four simple steps to stop the totality of the gun violence epidemic now and keep our children safe. Note: the steps do not depend on asking/persuading federal lawmakers to do the right things––we know they won’t. The steps will FORCE them to.
Two things: 1) Background checks as they exist are seriously flawed. 2) While we need to have a background check for every gun sold, (currently that is not the case) We need a new type of background check––both expanded and comprehensive.
For the background check we conduct today, the name of a would-be gun purchaser is run through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)––the database of prohibited purchasers maintained by the FBI. It includes, among others, felons, domestic abusers and people with adjudicated mental disabilities. If they are not on the list, they pass and can buy a gun(s); if they are on the list they cannot.
Sounds simple enough but the reality is the database is missing millions of records.
For example, 71 million mental health records of people with serious mental disabilities should be in the NICS database but as of June 2017, there were only 4.5 million. States do not have to submit any prohibited purchaser data and past programs to incentivize them to submit data have met with minimal success.
Further, due to HIPAA, patient confidentiality and the potential for reprisal lawsuits, it is not realistic to expect that all the names of people with serious mental disabilities would be entered into the database.
WHAT WOULD AN EXPANDED AND COMPREHENSIVE BACKGROUND CHECK SYSTEM LOOK LIKE? It is a fail-safe system we already use—and have used for decades—for the purchase, sale and transfer of machine guns. Controlled by the National Firearms Act of 1934 every machine gun is registered—and every current machine gun owner or would-be purchaser (or relative to whom the machine gun owner might want to transfer the machine gun including his children) must go through an expanded, comprehensive background check.
This includes having to submit fingerprints and a photograph which is kept on file, a criminal record check, examination of local records, interviews with local law enforcement, neighborhood, school and work place acquaintances as well as an interview with the would-be purchaser.
Machine guns have not contributed to the gun violence epidemic. The major reason is the requirement for comprehensive background checks which ensure that criminals and people with mental disabilities cannot own or possess them.
Further, because there is a federal registry of machine gun owners, should a current owner become mentally disabled, this would be known and their machine gun(s) removed by local law enforcement.
Today’s background check system is flawed. Conducting more of them will do little to halt the gun violence epidemic. We need expanded, comprehensive background checks for all gun sales—they work and are clearly constitutional.
Elliot Fineman holds an engineering degree from MIT and has served as a strategic marketing consultant to Fortune 500 companies including top corporations like Accenture, KPMG and the Boston Consulting Group. Following the murder of his son in 2006 by a paranoid schizophrenic who had legally obtained the gun, he founded National Gun Victims Action Council.
National Gun Victims Action Council (NGVAC) is a non-profit network of gun victims, survivors, the faith community and ordinary people leveraging their buying power to change America’s gun laws. NGVAC initiated the successful action that caused Starbucks to change its gun policy. NGVAC pursues novel legal strategies to reduce gun violence and encourages corporate involvement.