YOWELL: Background checks will not end gun violence

Requiring more checks when buying a firearm is not going to make it harder to obtain one — it’s only going to make it harder to legally purchase it


Even when required, a background check does not have the ability to stop mass shootings from occurring. 

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Following a string of deadly shootings across the nation, gun control is once again the focus of our country’s political debate. Representatives on both sides of the aisle — while having different opinions and motives — do appear to agree that immediate action is required to adequately address what is being labeled a “gun violence epidemic” in America. The White House is also hinting at a piecemeal legislation package that claims to be bipartisan in addressing a wide range of “bills, ideas and concepts.” Yet when questioned on the legislation, the White House staff was unsure about its future, having no clear direction outside of President Donald Trump demanding something that “could pass both chambers.” However, they did note the focus of the legislation is to expedite the death penalty for those convicted in mass shootings.

This came as disappointing news to Democrats, who continually push for stricter background checks when purchasing firearms. Yet Republicans and their political allies — specifically the National Rifle Association — rejoiced in the White House’s continued support of their Second Amendment rights. Both parties do, however, appear to support what are being called “red flag laws” that label individuals identified as being mentally ill or incapable of owning a firearm in background check databases. This check on the mental health of an individual is not enough for the left side of the aisle, though, as they continue to push for the expansion of required background checks to private sellers. Yet, as a self-identified Democrat, I simply cannot agree with my party, as background checks are not going to solve the issue of gun violence in America, they are only going to perpetuate it. 

Americans have seen time and time again that increasing the harshness of a law does not guarantee it will address the problem. For instance, then-President Richard Nixon’s war on drugs introduced in 1971 had serious repercussions for the American judicial and prison systems. This flawed increase in law and punishment was continued by both then-Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton and is also a hot topic in the Trump administration — following a 20 percent increase in drug related deaths from 2015 to 2016. Thus, the “war on drugs” has cost American taxpayers billions of dollars only to continue failing nearly five decades later. 

Obviously gun violence is a much different issue than drug abuse. However, the concept here is the same — stricter laws will not solve the issue at hand. This because, in part, enforcement of said laws, almost never goes as planned. Specific to gun violence, however, expanding background checks past current requirements will not look the way it sounds. This is because — despite popular belief — the United States already has federally mandated background checks for anyone purchasing a firearm from a federal firearms licensed  dealer. Essentially, this means any company, shop or individual that aims to make money by selling firearms or sells firearms regularly must run potential buyers through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to complete the sale. This includes sales completed at gun shows and online.

Yet the issue Democrats find with this law is that obviously not all gun sellers are FFL dealers. However, there are clauses to address private sales as well. For example, when unlicensed, private dealers are selling across state lines they must ship the firearm to an FFL dealer and have the buyer run through the NICS prior to completing the sale. Yet many still argue that all private sales should have background check requirements. To date, 21 states and the District of Columbia do have private sale background check requirements in place, which include Pennyslavania, New Jersey and Connecticut. 

Even with all of these restrictions written into law, since 1982, 74 percent of mass shooters purchased their firearms legally, meaning they passed the background checks. This not only displays the failure of background checks to regulate firearms, but it also shows that even when required, a background check does not have the ability to stop mass shootings from occurring. Granted, Seth Aaron Ator, the gunman who rampaged through a Wal-Mart in West Texas, was able to obtain his firearm through a loophole in Texas state background check laws. However, even if said law had been in place, it likely wouldn’t have changed the outcome. For starters, Texas does not require residents to register their firearms or obtain a license — so, while there are around 338,000 registered firearms in Texas, experts estimate the total is actually much higher. Therefore, believing a background check would have prevented someone with planned intentions to obtain a firearm from doing so is unrealistic. 

In addition to all of this, the United States has the highest gun per capita in the world, averaging at around 1.2 guns per person — that is approximately 400 million civilian-owned guns. Experts also estimate that there are tens of thousands of unregistered guns in America. Thus, it is simply foolish to believe passing laws that require background checks at the private sale or transfer of a firearm is possibly going to be enforced. How could it be? 

The bottom line is that gun violence in America — as controversial as it may be — can be addressed, but not by expanded background checks. It is both unreasonable and naive to believe passing new versions of laws we already have in place is going to solve such a deep rooted problem. Our country is facing a crisis, but it isn’t about guns — it’s more systematic and includes everything from poverty to social status to the criminal justice system. But to solve it we need to stop fooling ourselves and start considering real solutions. 

Hailey Yowell is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at h.yowell@cavalierdaily.com

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