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He described the case of an applicant who had attempted suicide three months earlier and had told a friend if she had a gun she would take her own life. Now she wanted to buy a gun, and because she had not been judicially committed as mentally ill, she may have met the technicalities of the law. He denied the permit.
“I can’t in good faith give that person a permit,” he said.
The current checks apply when licensed dealers are making sales, whether in their shops or at gun shows. They do not apply to person-to-person transactions, whether at gun shows, over the Internet or across the backyard fence. The proposed bills would close this loophole.
“We would submit that it’s not really a loophole, but a huge gaping hole that allows as many as 40 percent of the gun transactions in our state to take place through private sales,” said Flaherty, the police association’s leader. “It is the route that people who know that they are ineligible to pass a background check will travel.”
The 40 percent figure has come under attack. Vick and the NRA say that is an old estimate, produced before federal background checks began. Two professors who produced the estimate, Philip Cook of Duke University and Jens Ludwig of the University of Chicago, say it was based on gun surveys that no longer exist, and they do not know the current number.
Vick estimated that “98 percent” of guns sold at gun shows go through dealers with federal background checks, as do interstate gun sales arranged over websites. He said a universal background check law is aimed at the wrong people, imposing a new burden on “10 percent of law-abiding citizens.”
The chances for universal background checks remain iffy. A competing bill supported by the NRA, which focuses on improving background-check information and cracking down on “straw purchases” of guns by intermediaries, appears to have more support.
Supporters remain convinced that this is a vital step. “We’re not talking about banning any guns,” said David Chipman, a former firearms agent who has lobbied the Legislature on behalf of a national group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “We’re going to say, at worst, you’re going to be mildly inconvenienced for the sake of public safety.”
Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042