We need "universal" background checks (emphasis on "universal") because there is a very large loophole in the existing federal law that allows dangerous people to obtain possession of a gun too easily.
When the Supreme Court ruled that the possession of a gun for personal protection was a constitutional right under the Second Amendment, they also ruled that several classes of people could be denied this right. Among the prohibited classes of people are felons and the seriously mentally ill. Almost everyone agrees that these are limited and reasonable restrictions on the right to own a gun.
In order to ensure that these prohibited people cannot obtain a gun as easily as they do now, the FBI maintains the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) where the names of these individuals are stored. Before selling a gun, a Federally Licensed Firearm Dealer is required to check with the NICS to make sure that the buyer is not on the prohibited list. Filling out the paperwork and checking with the NICS takes only a few minutes and 90% of the inquiries are resolved while the gun dealer is still on the phone.
This system is quick and efficient and, since its creation in 1998, it has prevented the sale of guns to over two million criminals and other prohibited persons.
The problem is that there is a large loophole in the system: It applies only to licensed dealers.
Under federal law, private sales or transfers of guns between individuals who are not licensed dealers are not covered. Sales at gun shows, between individuals or via the Internet can result in the gun being sold to a prohibited individual because no background check is required. This is a huge loophole in the federal law and it needs to be fixed.
The fix is simple. All gun sales should be subject to a background check. The rule that applies to licensed dealers should apply to all gun sales. This is what is we mean by "universal" background checks.
The reason we are calling on the federal government is that Illinois state laws, although strict, are not sufficient by themselves. In a recent report released by the Chicago Police Department, it was pointed out that 60 percent of guns recovered from crime scenes in Chicago were first sold in other states. The report states, "The largest out-of-state sources of Chicago's illegal guns were Indiana, Mississippi, and Wisconsin, which supplied 19 percent, 6.7 percent and 3.6 percent of these crime guns respectively. None of these states have laws that require checks for purchasers who buy firearms at gun shows or on the Internet."
With rights come responsibilities. Although the primary owner of a gun undergoes a background check when the gun is initially purchased from a licensed dealer, the secondary buyer of that gun may not. Just as we are at risk from second-hand smoke from cigarettes, we are also at risk of being shot by a "second-hand gun."
Universal background checks are supported by 85 percent of voters and 60 percent of NRA members. It is a reasonable and simple request. That is why I support the referendum on universal background checks that has been placed on the November ballot in Oak Park.
Because, unfortunately, what happens in Indiana does not stay in Indiana.
John Barrett is an Oak Park resident and a member of the Gun Responsibility Advocates.