Why background checks on all gun sales are essential

Let's leave our guns in the lobbyUnless you have been living under a rock, on a vacation with no news available or just plain in denial, you know that our nation has been experiencing an epidemic of gun violence that is really not new. This time, however, there seems to be more talk about it and even politicians are being pressed by the media and constituents to talk turkey about gun violence and what to do about it. It’s a topic that most want to avoid. Why? Because if they say what they really know to be true in their heart of hearts, it will p#$$ off the corporate gun lobby and the gun extremists and no one wants to go there. If it p&^%es off the rest of us? Apparently we don’t count and we are the majority. We are the 92% of even gun owners who want our politicians to pass a law to require background checks on all gun sales. I guess we don’t count.

So let’s look at the past month or so.  The shooter of the 9 Black Charleston residents at Mother Emanuel church should not have had a gun. How did he get it? He bought his gun from a licensed dealer after an incomplete background check. This was admitted to the public by the FBI Director:

Comey said the FBI made the error due to a breakdown in the background check system and confusion with paperwork between the FBI, local police departments and county jurisdictions.

Due to Roof’s admission during an arrest in late February that he was in possession of drugs, he should not have been permitted to buy the gun he used in the massacre. However, an agent working for the FBI’s background check system who was performing the review on Roof failed to contact the Columbia, South Carolina, police department which arrested Roof, in part because of a clerical error in records listing the wrong agency.

Because Roof’s background check took longer than three days to complete, the gun shop owner was allowed to sell the gun to Roof. The law permits gun sellers to sell guns if a background check takes longer than three days to complete.

Houston, we have a problem. Lives depend on our fixing this flaw in the background check system brought to us by the corporate gun lobby. This great article in The Trace explains how this happened in the first place:

It was called House Amendment 390, and it radically altered the implementation of the Brady background check bill. It was backed by the NRA. Twenty days later, it was the law. And 22 years later, one of its elements allowed Dylann Roof to get a gun.

Last week, Jim Clyburn, a Democratic Congressman from South Carolina, filed legislation that would close the so-called “default proceed loophole,” which allows federally licensed firearms dealers to proceed with a sale if a background check — as in Roof’s case — takes more than three business days to complete. Connecticut Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal echoed the call, urging President Obama to take executive action to extend the window that federal examiners have for making a determination on a purchaser.

Here is more from this article about how this provision to proceed with a sale after 3 days even without a record of a background check made it into law:

His amendment was initially rejected, but when he tweaked it slightly and requested a floor vote on November 10, 1993, it passed the House 238 to 192, with 122 Republicans and 84 Democrats voting “aye.” The full Brady bill passed the House later that day. When the Senate took up the legislation, lawmakers were faced with Gekas’s one-business-day time limit, which would go into effect five years after Brady’s enactment, along with the instant check system. But after further maneuvering in the Senate, the investigation period was raised to three days.

On the night of November 20, 1993, the Brady Act passed the Senate 63 to 36, with 47 Democrats and 16 Republicans voting yes. President Bill Clintonsigned it into law on November 30.

Charles Schumer, who shepherded the legislation in the House, would later testify about the “tortuous negotiations” necessary to get the Brady bill to Clinton’s desk. Though he called  the instant check provision (which would come to be known as the National Instant Criminal Background System, or NICS) “unworkable,” he conceded that “it was a necessary compromise to pass the most  important gun control legislation since 1968.”

Five days before the bill signing, Wayne LaPierre gave his own assessment of the outcome, reiterating his group’s stance: “The waiting period is unfair to honest, law-abiding people. The criminals won’t wait.” But in actuality, the group had triumphed. It managed to maintain political cover with supporters by fighting an unflinching war against the bill in the public arena while simultaneously watering it down from within. And more than ever before, it proved that it could mobilize its three-million-strong membership in the process.

Ten months before NICS was scheduled to go online, Clinton floated the idea of indefinitely extending the five-day investigation period used by the interim manual background check system. But the Republicans who had taken over control of Congress proved inhospitable to any further alterations.

And so 9 people are dead because of the corporate gun lobby’s totally irrational fear about “law abiding” citizens having to wait to get their guns. What’s the rush I ask?

Regarding the shooting in Chattanooga, there’s so much it’s hard to know where to start. The shooter obtained some guns “legally” whatever that means given his alleged problems with drugs and mental illness. One of the guns was purchased at the on-line site called Armslist.com that connects shooters  buyers with sellers. And yes, this is legal because we have not made it illegal. Until states and the federal government pass laws requiring background checks on all gun sales we will have more of these shootings. Do we care?

( To deflect the real problem of easy access to guns, some state Governors have issued orders for our at home military to be armed. Of course, we now know that at least one of the victims of the Chattanooga shooting was likely armed. Never mind. Armed citizens are showing up at military centers to “guard” our military. I wrote about this one in my last post. It’s not going well so far.)

Every time another of these shootings occur, a whole population of Americans have flash backs and PTSD. It happens. A friend wrote this article about her own experience with gun violence and why the shootings cause her to experience PTSD:

I started working as an activist to prevent gun violence in December 2012 after the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in which a 20-year-old man shot and killed 20 children and six adult staff. I felt I could no longer sit idly by as this epidemic ravaged my country — especially after my own experience more than a decade earlier. My PTSD-fueled visions were turning into nightmares of guns pointing at my own children’s heads. And that’s when I knew I had to do something.

What makes my job so damn hard — aside from the powerful and greedy gun lobby — is that I’m caught in what seems a never-ending cycle of gun-related violence, and it seems I can’t do it. I am caught in a perpetual state of drop-everything-and-rapidly-respond to another shooting.

My typical response, like many I know, is to feel a rush of anger at yet another shooting. Our legislators need to recognize that our system is bleeding — quite literally shot to hell. (…)

But this time, I am not angry. And that scares me. This time I feel helpless and I want to run away. Maybe it’s because I’m hosting a friend from New Zealand where they don’t have the epidemic of gun-related violence like we have here.

It has made me think about moving, about leaving the country.

Imagine what life would be like not having to worry whenever I take my kids to see a movie or send them off to school.

Imagine life without gun violence.

“Imagine a life without gun violence.”


But I digress. I got to thinking about the victims, PTSD, violence, epidemics, hapless politicians, the poisonous corporate gun lobby, my sister, families of victims of domestic violence who I know, families of victims of mass shootings who I know, families of victims of gun suicides who I know……

Where was I?

Oh yes,- the Lafayette theater shooting. The shooter was a prohibited purchaser but supposedly bought his gun legally. What does that mean? Let’s look at this article:

In between, Houser assembled a file that will tell one of two important policy stories when the still ongoing investigations are incomplete. Either Houser will stand as a case study in how far a person can go without being barred from gun ownership — or become the latest reminder of the missing records that hobble the federal background check system. (…)

But on its own, the emergency petition that led to H0user’s stay at West Central would not necessarily prohibit him from gun ownership under the federal law that regards involuntary psychiatric commitments as grounds for banning someone from possessing firearms. For that to happen, a judge must take the next step and order extended hospital time. And for Houser, the records trail (at last for now) goes cold at that critical juncture. The relevant probate records are sealed and cannot be made public by the court.

While Houser’s family was asking that he be committed for psychiatric care, they were also seeking a temporary protective order barring him from any contact with them. That court filing cites “various acts of family violence” and states that Houser’s wife had “become so worried about the defendant’s volatile mental state that she has removed all guns and/or weapons from their marital residence.”  A subsequent, handwritten court record indicates that the temporary protective order was lifted on May 8, 2008. 

Some states have laws that command persons subjected to a protective order to relinquish their guns while the order is in place. Georgia, the state where Houser’s family lives and the order was filed, is not one of them, according to a 2014 report from the Center for American Progress. Houser’s home state of Alabama has a similar lack of restrictions. In 2014, the Louisiana State Legislature passed a law prohibiting the possession of firearms “by persons who are the subject of protective orders or permanent injunctions involving domestic violence.” However, the law only applies to cohabitating spouses and permanent restraining orders. Houser, who was estranged from (but allegedly sometimes stalked) his family and had only a temporary order against him, would not have been affected.

The shooter was denied an Alabama permit to carry a gun in 2006. But:

With the 2013 passage of legislation backed by the National Rifle Association, Alabama went from a “may issue” to a “shall issue” system for concealed carry permits, taking away some of sheriffs’ discretion. And none of the behaviors that led the sheriff’s office to reject his bid for a pistol permit would have caused him to fail a federal background check before buying a gun.

What might — might — have was a judge’s order of involuntary psychiatric commitment, which brings the events of April 2008 back to the fore.

If the judge in the case didn’t order more hospital time, that could explain Houser’s legal gun purchase in 2014. The other possibility: The involuntary commitment was ordered, but the record never made it into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Georgia is among the worst performing states when it comes to forwarding mental health records to the federal database, according to an analysis by Everytown for Gun Safety. (Everytown is a seed donor to The Trace.)

2 are dead and at least 7 injured as a result of a fatal flaw in our background check system.

Where is common sense?

Governor Jindal?


That’s what I thought. Silence. Denial. Pandering.

Disgusting and shameful.

We are better than this.

Here is what LouisianaGovernor Bobby Jindal, Republican candidate for President, said about gun laws and the loopholes that allowed for the shooter to get his gun:

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana called for tougher gun laws in other states on Sunday, breaking his silence on the issue three days after a gunman with a history of mental illness and violence opened fire in a movie theater in the state’s fourth-largest city.

Gun control has become a prominent subject on the presidential campaign trail after the shooting on Thursday in Lafayette became the third mass shooting in six weeks in the United States. Mr. Jindal, who received an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association, is one of 16 candidates seeking the Republican nomination for 2016. (…)

Until Sunday, Mr. Jindal and most of his Republican rivals had deflected questions in recent days over whether the killings reflected a need for tighter gun control laws. On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Mr. Jindal called for states to adopt laws similar to Louisiana’s that feed information about mental illness into a federal background check system for potential gun buyers.

“I think every state should strengthen their laws,” he said. “Every state should make sure this information is being reported in the background system. We need to make sure that background system is working. Absolutely, in this instance, this man never should have been able to buy a gun.”

Hmmm, OK. We could give Governor Jindal credit for at least attempting to say the right thing under pressure. What he didn’t say might be more important to the discussion. Clearly the Lafayette shooting exposes the flaws in our system brought to us by gun lobby bought and paid for politicians like Jindal. Does he really think we will turn the other cheek and pretend he didn’t just sign into law some of the weakest gun laws in the country? Does he think we don’t know that Louisiana has one of the highest gun homicide and gun death rates in the country? From the linked article above:

The state doesn’t require background checks on private sales, even for assault weapons; doesn’t require gun owners to register their firearms; and doesn’t have a limit on the number of firearms that can be purchased at one time, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. As for gun violence, the state has the second-highest gun death rate in the nation, according to an analysis of the latest National Vital Statistics report. Louisiana’s lax oversight also enables firearms trafficking to other states, in which it ranks fifteenth in the nation, and 28 percent of guns wind up in criminals’ hands within two years of sale—almost six points above the national average.

Jindal has worked to weaken the state’s already lax gun control by signing a wave of bills in 2013 and 2014. He broadened the “Stand Your Ground” law to protect shooters who hurt, but don’t kill, someone they feel is threatening. He allowed concealed weapons in places that serve alcohol. He banned public access to the personal information of concealed handgun permit owners. He approved guns in churches. And he allowed Louisianans to apply for lifetime concealed-carry permits.

The hypocrisy oozes out of his mouth. Will he get away with it or will the public and the media keep asking questions and keep making politicians responsible for their own actions.

The time is NOW to talk about our gun violence epidemic. We don’t need lying and pandering. We need action. But of course the gun lobby and its’ bought and paid for politicians think we will believe them when they say the time to talk about gun violence is not after a wave of gun violence. A Washington Post article talks about why now is the time:

There are good reasons for legislative restraint in the aftermath of emotional tragedies. You probably don’t want lawmakers drafting bad legislation in a panic to do something, anything, in response to a public outcry.

On the other hand, as the shootings continue and the body count rises, the inevitable counter-argument becomes: if not now, when? Jindal didn’t want to talk gun laws last month, after Charleston. He doesn’t want to talk about them this month, after Lafayette. It’s only a matter of time before the next national tragedy strikes and sets the national gun clock back to zero again. And it will likely happen sooner than you think.

The Mass Shootings Tracker, a crowd-sourced tally of mass shootings maintained by the GunsAreCool subreddit, shows that we haven’t gone more than eight days without a mass shooting in the U.S. since the start of 2015 — that doesn’t leave a lot of time to grieve and regroup between shootings. We’ve averaged exactly one mass shooting per day since the start of the year. Forty eight days saw more than one mass shooting take place. On 18 days there were at least 3 shootings. On three days this year — April 18, June 13 and July 15 — there have been five shootings. (…) In the end, it often seems that the goal is to put off the conversation about the role of guns in America or quibble about methodology while the number of people killed or injured by guns rises. On the other hand, some people, like the Telegraph’s Dan Hodges, argue that we’ve already had the conversation, and that it’s already over. They may be right.

Here is what Dan Hodges tweeted that got the attention of the writer of the article above:

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 12.12.30 PM

Indeed. Have we decided that the massacre of 20 small school children is bearable. What have we become in order to satisfy a well funded corporate gun lobby’s appetite for power, influence and sales of weapons? Have we become the country reflected in the cartoon at the top of this post? The question has to be asked and answered. For what we do about this epidemic of gun violence reflects our values and who we are as a country.

We just have to decide what the price is for our insane gun culture as this writer is wondering: 

How much is one innocent life worth? Ten gun buyers waiting a few minutes longer to purchase a firearm? 25 buyers? 100?

I’m not going to tell you about how other countries have faced similar crises and collectively made the decision to enact reform. We aren’t other countries. As Americans we deal with issues at our own rate based on our own values.

Instead, I’ll point to an issue that the South just tackled: the Confederate flag. Since revisionist historians started to recast the role of the South in the Civil War in the late 1800s, it was pretty much an accepted fact that people were too divided over the flag for anything to ever change.

…and then it did. In a matter of weeks, the Confederate flag was relegated to the dustbin of history in South Carolina and companies that understood its harmful symbolism to so many Americans began pulling products from their shelves.

The change came at the cost of nine more innocent lives, but it happened. (…)

Our lack of action as a country suggests that we don’t value the lives of innocent Americans over the minutes of inconvenience that potential gun buyers might face. So unless we are willing to start telling our elected leaders to pass background check reform, we might as well continue to just haggle over the price of innocent lives.

Lives matter. Laws matter. Background checks or lack thereof matter. The proof is screaming at us. Are we listening?

We could listen to the voices of the victims. How about the video of one of the Lafayette shooting victims, Jillian Johnson, singing with her group in this lovely and moving tribute to her and her life. The victims have names. They have families. They had jobs, husbands, aspirations, opinions….. until suddenly they don’t.

We just have to be better than this.

5 thoughts on “Why background checks on all gun sales are essential

  1. Guy says:

    Supposing that UBC ce up for a vote, it will have to have some degrees of compromise (much like the changes to the Brady law The Trace article outlines). One of those options might be the opening of the NICS system to private sales. One phone call to check the bonafides of a purchaser, from the location of the sale, and the seller may have a go/no-go answer that fulfills the BC requirement.

    1. This suggestion has been made before. The thing is, in states that have passed stronger background check bills, the system seems to be working out without doing this. Private sellers use licensed dealers to get the background checks. As long as that works out, there is no reason to open up NICS to so many other folks since there are so many of them. Licensed dealers must comply with certain regulations by the ATF. http://smartgunlaws.org/dealer-regulations-policy-summary/

      1. Guy says:

        If the goal is compliance to UBC, then convenience of use will be key in convincing otherwise lawful gun owners to submit to one. Since there are no measures in place to guarantee compliance, the easier the process the more likely private sellers are to follow the law (especially in states currently without UBC requirements, a majority). Given the option of going to a dealer, paying a fee, and dealing with gun counter staff (occasionally aggravating), many would rather avoid the fuss and continue their private business at home. If the same process could be conducted over cell/smart phone between two people, it’s more likely to happen (Occam’s razor applies).

        Also, licensed dealers get their wares directly from manufacturers, unlike private sellers who are selling their personal property. ATF oversight for individual citizen sales seems a bit heavy handed, like the EPA having a hand in purchase of any combustion engine.

      2. There is a clear privacy issue here. NICS has sensitive information that thousands of people who are private sellers should not be able to access without some regulation of who they are. I doubt you would want privacy compromised in that way. The ATF regulates ffls for a reason. It’s working fine in the states that have passed the laws. No need to do something different at this point.

  2. Another possible avenue is using a “permit to acquire”, like we do in Minnesota. You apply at your local law enforcement. They do a thorough background check and, if you pass as almost everybody does, you get the permit card. It’s renewable from any period of one year up to five years, depending. A person with the permit can purchase virtually any number & type of guns while the permit is valid by merely showing the card to prospective seller(s). There is no paper trail created by the permit to acquire for any gun acquisition. It’s rather equivalent to being “carded” when ordering an alcoholic drink, so it’s quick, cheap and satisfies concerns about potentially leading to gun confiscation. The negative aspect to it is it leaves no data for tracking down gun traffickers.

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