Criminal Background Checks

Gabby and Mark strongly support the Second Amendment, which confers upon all Americans the right to own a gun for protection, recreation, and collection. However, that right also requires basic responsibility, and as a society we are responsible for keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people like criminals, terrorists, and the mentally ill.

Federal law requires that individuals seeking to buy a gun at a licensed dealer pass a background check to prevent criminals, domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill, and other dangerous people from purchasing firearms. Since the NICS instant background check system was implemented in 1998, background checks have denied transfers to over 1.7 million prohibited purchasers.

However, there is a gaping hole in our laws that allow criminals and others to go to “private sellers” at gun shows, on the internet, and elsewhere to buy guns with no background check, no questions asked. Commonly referred to as the private sales loophole or “gun show loophole,” this failure in our public safety policy has allowed up to 40 percent of all gun transfers to take place without a background check.

In practice, this means that those wishing to purchase a gun have two easily available options – a federally licensed seller that will require a background check and an unlicensed seller that won’t. Not surprisingly, 80 percent of criminal inmates in a Department of Justice survey said they got their guns through private means – no background check necessary.

Even when background checks are performed, prohibited purchasers can slip through the cracks because the NICS instant criminal background check system is missing millions of relevant records due to insufficient reporting by state and federal agencies. For example, 19 states have submitted fewer than 100 mental health records to NICS, and only 9 of the 60 federal agencies listed in relevant FBI data have submitted any mental health records.

Congress should act quickly to fix the criminal background check system for gun sales by 1) getting the names of everyone who isn’t allowed to buy a gun into the background check system, and 2) providing a background check for every gun purchase, with limited exceptions. Over 90 percent of Americans agree with this policy.

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