The Labor Day weekend marked the end of a summer filled with barbeques, beach vacations, trips to the pool … and shootings. In the span of approximately two months, four highly-publicized mass shootings resulted in the victimization of 36 people—including four reverends, five military personnel, a recent college graduate, a librarian, a track coach, two senior citizens, six children, and a former domestic partner. These victims, of course, were just a fraction of the approximately 89 people who are killed by guns in the United States every day. While politicians and pundits often throw up their hands and express bewilderment at what could have caused or prevented these tragedies, the stories behind this summer’s shootings demonstrate that the solutions are already out there, and they can be summarized in two words: background checks.
First and foremost, background checks must be expanded to all gun sales. Since the Brady Law went into effect in 1994, Brady background checks have blocked the sale of 2.6 million purchases to dangerous people, and saved countless lives. But the law only applies to sales by licensed firearms dealers, and doesn’t apply to so-called “private” sellers. Especially in today’s age of internet shopping, which didn’t exist when the Brady Bill was passed, it makes no sense that these unlicensed online gun sales do not require these life-saving checks. The bottom line is that our world has evolved, especially technologically, and our laws need to keep up. Lives are being lost every day Congress fails to act.
In August, a convicted felon and domestic violence offender broke into the home of his ex-girlfriend and killed her, along with her current partner, and six children.1 The gun he used to kill them after he had bound and tortured them? A 9 mm, purchased online.2
And less than a month before that, a known substance abuser with a history of severe mental illness, purchased multiple guns3 reportedly using Armslist.com. The shooter then used those guns to kill five military personnel at a naval operations support center and a recruiting office in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Congress has the power—and the means—to expand background checks to unlicensed online guns sales. H.R. 3411, the “Fix Gun Checks Act of 2015,”4 a common-sense piece of legislation introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier would do just this. Congress simply needs to act on it.
Second, the background check system must be allowed to work to its full capacity and not be hobbled by the corporate gun lobby. In June, a white supremacist slaughtered nine victims at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church with a 45 caliber Glock handgun he was able to purchase because of an NRA-supported modification to the Brady Bill known as the “Gekas Amendment”5 which allows stores to sell a gun to a customer who has not received approval from NICS within 72 hours. A government report6 shows, however, that customers who receive a “delay” response from NICS are 20 times more likely to be a prohibited purchaser. In response to the Charleston shooting, Rep. Clyburn introduced H.R. 3501, the Background Check Completion Act,7 which would close this loophole. Predictably, the NRA opposes it.8 When the gun lobby simultaneously insists on the inclusion of loopholes in the background check system and then criticizes the system for not catching all prohibited shooters, we must expose their hypocrisy.
Third, we need to ensure that law enforcement has the tools to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. Background checks already prevent felons, drug users and domestic violence offenders from buying guns. But consider the recent Lafayette, Louisiana movie theater shooting that killed two people and injured nine more. Despite a long history of family violence,9 court issued protection orders, and arson arrests, the shooter was able to pass a background check. A federal Gun Violence Restraining Order (“GVRO”) law,10 similar to the one signed into law in California last year, would have the potential to prevent these types of dangerous individuals from passing a background check and buying guns.
The gun lobby often likes to say that strong gun laws won’t stop every shooting. That may be true. But if these legislative proposals prevent even a portion of the innocent lives that are snuffed out by gun violence in this country every year, like the victims of this summer’s mass shooters, it will have been a worthy cause. And Congress has the power and the tools to do this.
1. Bever, Lindsey. "Accused Texas Shooter David Conley Had Troubled Past With Victim." The Washington Post. 10 August 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/08/10/accused-tex...
2. Eisenbaum, Joel. "Source: Accused Mass Killer David Conley Inside Home for 14 Hours Before Surrendering." KPRC 2 Houston. 10 August 2015. http://www.click2houston.com/news/source-accused-mass-killer-david-conle....
3. Valdmanis, Richard. "Before Tennessee Rampage, Suspect Texted Friend Link To Islamic Verse." Reuters. 19 July 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/07/19/us-usa-tennessee-shooting-idUS....
4. Fix Gun Checks Act of 2015. H.R. 3411. https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/3411/text.
5. Mascia, Jennifer. "How America Wound Up With a Gun Background Check System Built More for Speed Than Certainty." The Trace. 21 July 2015. http://www.thetrace.org/2015/07/brady-bill-amendment-default-proceed-loo....
6. United States General Accounting Office. "Gun Control: Options For Improving the National Instant Criminal Background Check System." April 2000. http://www.gao.gov/assets/240/230219.pdf.
7. The Background Check Completion Act. H.R. 3051. https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/3051.
8. The National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action. "Background Check Bill Seeks to Create Backdoor Gun Prohibition, While Bloomberg Group Piles On." 17 July 2015.
9. Robertson, Campbell, et al. "Lafayette Shooting Adds Another Angry Face in the Gunmen's Gallery." The New York Times. 24 July 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/25/us/lafayette-theater-shooting-john-hou....
10. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "Memo: California's New Gun Violence Restraining Order Law." 30 October 2014. http://smartgunlaws.org/californias-new-gun-violence-restraining-order-law/.