Letter to the editor submitted by Jonathan Perloe, a member of the Greenwich Council Against Gun Violence, July 25, 2015
To the Editor:
As typically happens after mass shootings, opponents of gun regulation accuse advocates of stronger gun laws of exploiting the tragedy, and suggest that America’s crisis of gun violence can be solved simply with better enforcement of existing gun laws. Just after the Charleston massacre, Lawrence G. Keane, general counsel of the National Sports Shooting Foundation trade association accused Everytown for Gun Safety of “exploiting this tragedy for a cheap publicity stunt.” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said, “the facts undercut attempts to use the tragedy to enact unnecessary gun laws.”
Enforcement of existing laws is important, which is why the bills introduced in Congress in 2013 following the Sandy Hook shooting called for improvements in and increased funding for the National Instant Background Check System (NICS), the process used by federally licensed firearm dealers to screen for criminals, domestic abusers and other dangerous persons. However, even with improved compliance, there will be occasions when background checks cannot be completed within the three days, allowing dealers to consummate the sale in the absence of knowing whether the buyer is prohibited from owning a firearm.
According to the FBI, 2,511 sales were made in 2014 to prohibited buyers. Although a small fraction of total gun sales, and many of the illegal guns are eventually retrieved by the ATF (sometimes months later), this gift to the gun lobby puts the public at risk. Such was the case with the Charleston shooter who was able to buy a gun even though he was prohibited from doing so. If Congress truly cares about public safety, it would extend the waiting time for completion of background checks, as proposed in the Background Check Completion Act introduced by Representative Clyburn (D-SC) in response to the Charleston tragedy.
Calling the three day timeframe a “safety valve” for protecting Second Amendment rights, the NRA responded to Clyburn’s bill with its usual refrain: “determined criminals can always obtain firearms illegally to carry out their plans.” The NRA stance ignores the fact that Brady background checks have stopped 2.4 million purchases by prohibited persons.
Beyond extending the time frame for completing background checks, it is much more important for Congress to enact universal background checks, extending them to cover private sales at gun shows and online, where an estimated 40 percent of gun purchases take place. Consistently supported by 85 to 90 percent of Americans, including gun owners, Congress has still failed to act. It is encouraging that Senators Manchin (D-WV) and Toomey (R-PA) have publicly stated they want to renew their effort to enact the universal background check bill that was filibustered by Republicans in 2013. Both Senators had been “A” rated by the NRA prior to embracing a position that Toomey described as “common sense.”
We know from recent state-level success in strengthening gun safety laws that the gun lobby is not invincible. But enacting reasonable measures to reduce gun violence requires broad and vocal support from the majority of Americans who want laws that keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. A good way to start is to contact Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and urge them to pave the way for passage of universal background checks.
Cos Cob, CT
Jonathan Perloe is a member of the Greenwich Council Against Gun Violence.