Under federal law, certain categories of people are not allowed to buy or possess firearms. Background checks, introduced in 1994, have blocked licensed dealers from making more than 3.5 million gun sales to such people. There is, however, no system to prevent these same prohibited purchasers — felons, domestic abusers, fugitives and others deemed dangerous to themselves or others — from buying at a gun show, over the internet or through an ad. No background checks. No questions.
The situation makes absolutely no sense, as more than 90 percent of Americans agree. Democrats and Republicans, gun owners and nonowners favor universal background checks. Democrats, who just took control of the House, are right to make this a legislative priority.
Bipartisan legislation requiring background checks on all guns was introduced Tuesday in the House by Gun Violence Prevention Task Force Chairman Mike Thompson, D-Calif., with the backing of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. The bill was named H.R. 8 in honor of former U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was grievously wounded eight years ago on Jan. 8 in a shooting that killed six people and wounded 12 others. Returning to Capitol Hill for the bill’s introduction, Giffords tweeted: “Speaking is still difficult for me, but I don’t think I can make myself more clear: Congress must act to make our country safer from gun violence.”
Gun rights absolutists rather predictably reacted by noting that the man who tried to kill Giffords had passed a background check. And they’re correct: No single solution will end all gun violence. But, as with other complex problems, it makes sense to take steps that can help strengthen protections and save lives.
Think, for example, how universal background checks might have helped the Wisconsin woman shot and killed in January 2018 by her husband, who bought a firearm from a seller he met online, despite his felony conviction. Or the woman, her husband and her six children who police say were killed in 2015 in Texas by the woman’s former partner with a gun bought online from a stranger despite his criminal history.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE WASHINGTON POST