THE FALSE PROMISE OF UNIVERSAL BACKGROUND CHECKS.
by Elliot Fineman
CEO National Gun Victims Action Council
While all of the gun violence prevention groups—large and small—are pushing for universal background checks (a background check for every gun sold) they overlook the fact that in the last eleven high-profile gun massacres, each of the killers or suspects passed a background check. Universal background checks would have done nothing to prevent these massacres.
To prevent the Charlestons, Auroras and Umpquas, universal background checks—which only look at an electronic database which is missing millions of records—will not suffice. We need “universal real background checks” —checks that are as thorough as those done for adopting a child. (By the way this is how they do it in other countries—like England.)
Checks should include interviews with the people who actually know the purchaser (neighbors, family, workplace associates) and interviews with the purchaser himself. Every one of the last eleven high-profile killers was known in his community to be mentally unstable and deeply troubled. They were clearly unfit to be gun owners. Nonetheless, they passed their background check.
Our side’s incremental approach—this is the best we can get right no; we will improve it in the future—has played a major role in causing the gun violence epidemic.
The impact of past incremental approaches includes:
When the initial Brady Background Check Bill (Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act) was developed and enacted in 1993 drafters agreed to make reporting of prohibited gun purchasers by states optional—it is still not mandatory. As a result, studies show that today 90% of state mental health records that should be in the database of prohibited purchasers are not.* These people routinely pass background checks and some commit mass murders.
When the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was passed in 1994, instead of our side insisting that the definition of an assault weapon be based on function—any firearm that fired more than 10 bullets a minute—our side agreed to have assault weapons defined by the technical mechanism used to extract and install a magazine. This allowed manufacturers to install a cheap button on the side of the assault weapons they already manufactured which circumvented the definition and nullified the ban. Today, far more lethal assault weapons are sold as the meaningless ban was allowed to expire in 2004.
Now many gun violence prevention groups—not National Gun Victims Action Council— are pushing for universal background checks when they should be pushing for universal real background checks.
It is highly unlikely that either one will pass because of the structural problem in the Congress that gives undue power to the significant number of pro-gun states. (I will write about why that is the case next week.) It is the structural problem that explains why no sane gun laws have been passed at the federal level since 1993. While some point out that smoking and seat belt laws took a long time to pass, the cost of delay of sane gun laws is 30,000 lives per year. We cannot sign up for a solution that will take decades to achieve.
The certain way to deal with the horror of gun violence now is for President Obama to declare a state of emergency due to the gun violence epidemic and then unilaterally issue the unrestrained executive orders needed to halt it—including universal real background checks—orders he cannot issue without declaring a state of emergency. That is why we urge you to sign our petition asking him to do just that Change.org Petition for State of Emergency
*Feasibility Study- Illinois State Police, Nov. 7, 2009.
NGVAC Analytical Study December 12, 2014