The gun solution we’re not talking about

The gun solution we’re not talking about

October 18, 2019 100 By Kailee Schamberger


Every time there’s another mass shooting
in America — politicians have the same idea. It’s time to require a background check
for anyone who wants to buy a gun. I’m one of the Republicans who does believe
there should be background checks. It is an open secret that the existing background
check system is broken. Oh I have an appetite for background checks.
We’re going to be doing background checks. Here’s what they want to change: Right now,
gun buyers in the US only have to go through a background check at a gun store. But they don’t have to go through one if
they buy a gun from an unlicensed dealer, like at a gun show or a private sale.
But with universal background checks, everyone who buys a gun would go through one. Pretty much every American is in favor of
this. There’s only one problem. Universal background
checks won’t solve America’s gun crisis. But there’s something else that might. To understand how background checks work,
it helps to imagine two very different people, who both want to buy a gun. This first person is dangerous. Maybe he has
a history of domestic violence or mental illness. And most importantly — he has a record. And the second one is not dangerous. He just
wants a gun for protection or to go hunting or cause shooting guns is kinda fun. Before either one can buy a gun, they first have to go through an FBI instant background check. And I mean instant — it only takes an average
of 108 seconds to get a response from the FBI’s database. That database is made up of records sent in
by state police and other agencies. And it’s checked to see if the buyer has things like
a criminal record, addiction, a restraining order or has been hospitalized for a mental
illness. Under a universal background check system,
anyone buying a gun — whether in a gun store, or through a private sale — would have to
be checked through that database. That means our second person walks out with a gun.
And our first person, with a criminal record, doesn’t. Or, at least he shouldn’t. I’ve done a lot of reporting on this, we
have just seen time and time again background checks just do not stop people we don’t
want having guns from actually getting the weapons. There are a couple problems with the background
check system. One is that the FBI database is about as outdated as its logo. It’s missing millions of records. That’s why the Charleston church shooter
was able to buy a gun, despite having a record. Or why the man who killed 26 Texan churchgoers
was also able to pass a background check, after the Air Force failed to send his domestic
abuse convictions to the FBI. So even with a background check for every
type of sale, there’s still a chance this guy gets a gun. That’s partly why study after study has
found that while background checks “prevent, or make substantially more difficult, the
criminal acquisition of firearms.” Making them universal doesn’t actually have
any effect on the actual gun crisis in America: gun deaths. A Johns Hopkins study of California, where
comprehensive background checks were implemented in 1991, found the law was “not associated
with changes in firearm suicide or homicide.” Thanks in part to those incomplete and missing
records. The other problem is that background checks
only look at “good” people and “already bad” people. But there is an in between. The background checks are supposed to catch
people who have a record already. It just misses all the people who haven’t done anything
bad yet but might do something bad in the future. German is not advocating for a Minority Report
situation. He’s talking about someone like this guy,
who is also dangerous, but who doesn’t have a record. Under a universal background check system
— he could get a gun. In 108 seconds. But there’s another system that could prevent
this. Twelve states and Washington, DC have gone
one step further and established a licensing system. How’s it different? Well, Here’s how it
works in Massachusetts: Before you ever go to a gun store, you first
have to take a firearm safety course. Then you go to the police department and submit
an application, give references and give your fingerprints for a background check. Then not only is the FBI database checked,
but all local law enforcement agencies wherever you’ve lived are directly contacted, along
with the Department of Mental Health. That entire process in Massachusetts usually
takes about 3 weeks. And most people‚ about 97% — pass. Nothing about a gun licensing system will
prevent a law-abiding citizen from going through the process and obtaining a firearm. That’s Dr. Cassandra Crifasi, she researches
health policy at Johns Hopkins, and she’s one of the authors of the studies earlier. And she says the reason licensing works is
that it’s designed to do both of the big things background checks fail at. A, to properly identify and screen out people
who shouldn’t have guns. And B, create a system to reduce impulsive
gun purchases. The licensing system is more comprehensive
than the one-database background check system, so our criminal will be reliably denied a
gun. But because it’s so meticulous it also stands
a chance of keeping our third guy, without a record, from getting a gun. There are people who, may want to impulsively
acquire a firearm, for example to harm themselves or others. And the process of obtaining a license can
at least delay that person during that time of crisis or maybe deter them from getting
that firearm at all. In 1995, Connecticut implemented a licensing
system. Over the next 10 years, they saw a drop in
gun homicides and gun suicides. Compare that to Missouri, which once had a
licensing system, but got rid of it in 2007. Over the next decade, they had a huge spike
in homicides and gun suicides. In both states there were lots of factors
involved. But researchers say this shows that licensing works. It’s also… pretty popular. Among voters
who live in a house with a gun, more than two-thirds think that it’s a good idea.
Ask all Americans and more than three-quarters support it. Background checks are supposed to stop bad
people from getting guns. But they often don’t. Licensing picks up that slack. By making sure that people are crossing these hurdles,
we just make sure, in a much better, stronger way, that people are not getting firearms
when they shouldn’t have them.