From the Chicago Tribune:
Imagine a homeowner investing in high-end, heavy-duty deadbolt locks and motion-activated lights for every entrance. Sounds pretty secure, right? Now imagine the same homeowner leaving a couple of ground-floor windows open. The lapse would negate much of the value of the safeguards, as would be obvious to anyone.
For a long time, though, Congress has not been able to apply this simple logic to firearm sales. Anyone buying a gun from a federally licensed dealer has to submit to a background check, which is intended to flag anyone forbidden to own guns because he or she is a felon, fugitive from justice, illegal drug user or “mental defective.”
But if you buy from private sellers, some of whom do regular business at gun shows, you can skip the background check (though not in Illinois, which has stricter rules). About one-fifth of all gun purchases fall in this category. One study found that, nationally, only 3.9 percent of inmates convicted of gun crimes got their weapons from licensed dealers.
This week, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on a measure that would require all firearm purchases to include a background check. It would close a gaping loophole that works to the advantage of unscrupulous criminals and disturbed individuals who have violent intentions.
The idea is exceptionally popular. In 2017, Gallup found that 96 percent of Americans favored “requiring background checks for all gun purchases.” President Barack Obama pushed the change after the horrific 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Conn., only to see the Senate vote it down.
The opposition of the National Rifle Association has proved to be an insurmountable roadblock. But the House seems ready to go around it.
Another bill due for a House vote would close the “Charleston loophole,” which allowed Dylann Roof to buy the pistol he used to kill nine people at a church in 2015. Roof’s prior arrest for using drugs disqualified him, but the sale was allowed because his background check was not completed before a three-day deadline expired. This legislation would set the deadline at 10 business days for the background check to be done, with an additional 10-day extension permitted if necessary. In 2016, says Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., 4,000 guns were sold to ineligible buyers who would have been caught had there been more time for the background check.
The NRA claims that mandating universal background checks would be a terrible inconvenience and “would make criminals out of law-abiding gun owners for simply loaning a firearm to a friend or some family members.” But the background check bill specifically exempts loans and gifts among family members. It also allows a gun owner to lend weapons for target shooting or hunting to a friend unless the owner has reason to believe the friend is barred from having a gun or intends to commit a crime.
The critics say the second bill would amount to an onerous 20-day waiting period. In fact, background checks are usually completed in minutes, with 95 percent done within two hours. The number of people who would have to wait the maximum period is likely to be minuscule, if not zero. Had this provision been law in 2015, though, nine Charleston churchgoers might be alive today.
The federal background check system, set up in 1998, has done much to prevent firearms from getting into the hands of people who have been deemed dangerous. But it has gaps that are way overdue for Congress to close.