In the wake of deadly mass shootings in Charleston, S.C., and Chattanooga, Tenn., the nation finds itself once again debating whether and how to further limit access to firearms. Unfortunately, meaningful change is unlikely in a Congress where fealty to the NRA and its ridiculous drive for a fully armed America outweighs politicians’ commitments to the safety of the people who elected them. Still, we must continue to push the boulder up the hill and urge Congress to approve two common-sense bills to expand and make existing laws more effective.
Under federal law, the name of anyone buying a firearm through a licensed gun dealer must be matched against the National Instant Criminal Background Check System database of people deemed unfit to own weapons, including criminals, drug users and the mentally ill. But private transactions, including those between non-dealers at gun shows, are exempt. (Some states, such as California, require checks for all sales, including private ones.) The Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act of 2015, which was introduced in March by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) and Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) and which has a companion measure in the Senate, would extend background checks to all commercial firearms sales.
The bill also would make $400 million in grants available to encourage states to improve their voluntary reporting of barred persons to the national database, whose incomplete records have resulted in gun sales to ineligible buyers who went on to commit horrific crimes (while more than 2.4 million sales have been denied since the Brady Act went into effect in 1994, according to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence). FBI Director James B. Comey said last week that the Department of Justice’s inspector general is reviewing the system.
Meanwhile, there is another loophole in federal law (backed by the NRA) that has been exploited some 15,000 times over the last five years, according to the Everytown for Gun Safety advocacy group — and that allowed Dylann Roof, the alleged Charleston gunman, to buy his weapons. Currently, in most states, a gun dealer can complete a sale after three days even if the background check is not finished. While most such checks take minutes, some require deeper reviews of records. Roof bought his guns as an FBI examiner was still digging into criminal records that eventually revealed a drug history that should have precluded the sale. Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) last week introduced the Background Check Completion Act that would bar a gun sale until the background check is completed, no matter how long that takes. (In California, a sale can be completed without a background check only after 30 days.)
Passing these two bills to close unnecessary loopholes makes sense. But does Congress have the courage to do so?