Why we need 'universal' background checks

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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We need "universal" background checks because there is a very large loophole in the existing federal law that allows dangerous people to obtain possession of a gun. 

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, 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 in all states. In some states 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. Unfortunately, what happens in Indiana does not stay in Indiana and these guns can pass via a straw purchase into our state. 

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. All gun sales and transfers of ownership in all states should be subject to this requirement. This is what is we mean by "universal" background checks.

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." 

 Eighty-five percent of Americans and 60 percent of NRA members support universal background checks. It is a reasonable and simple request. That is why we should support federal legislation to enact a universal background check system.

John Barrett

Oak Park resident, retired trauma surgeon at County Hospital, member of Gun Responsibility Advocates (GRA)

Reader Comments

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Kenny Ray Oxenrider  

Posted: October 8th, 2015 12:39 PM

The problem with background checks is that they are really disguised gun registration methods...... despite denials by the govt. and others..... do you really think they are not going to keep the info on file? They register the bullet with the gun when it is fired at the factory and a photo is taken of the markings. This is on file with the feds..... what good would that be if they did not know all about the person that 'bought' that gun? Wake up zombies...... You are walking down the wrong path.

Rich Seibert from Reading, Pa  

Posted: July 23rd, 2015 1:04 PM

Universal gun background checks are Federal gun registration

Jim Kilpatrick  

Posted: July 23rd, 2015 9:57 AM

The Supreme Court does NOT issue "Rulings." They issue, "Opinions." Go look for yourself. The Congress can then pass legislation overcoming any such "opinions" States can also issue "nullification" legislation within their states "nullifying" any "opinions" they believe violate the Constitution or state rights. The Supreme Court is NOT the final arbiter of what either the Constitution nor Congressional legislation. The people, through their elected representatives, are! When Boehner or McConnel say it's "settled" by the Supreme Court they're LYING AGAIN! You people should really spend some time studying the founding documents and the actual "settled law" surrounding it before you give away ALL your rights to your wannabe masters.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: July 23rd, 2015 9:55 AM

Want to see real results? Check out Project Exile at http://www.ojjdp.gov/pubs/gun_violence/profile38.html These people looked at the problem of firearms crime and violence and the existing tools and applied tough love. It is working!

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: July 22nd, 2015 8:33 PM

Paragraph 3"before selling a gun", So according to the Doctors logic the Universal Backround Check only applies to selling a firearm. Therefore a firearm traded, or loaned to a person is exempt from The Universal Backround Check.Makes sense.

Jim Smith  

Posted: July 22nd, 2015 5:56 PM

Re: "and 60 percent of NRA members support universal background checks" I don't doubt there are surveys that state that, but I doubt the conclusions are correct. The NRA doesn't release their membership lists and no gun owner I know is going to participate in any poll with strangers asking questions about firearms especially in today's environment. The NRA conducted their own poll among their members and their numbers tell a different story (https://www.nraila.org/articles/20130315/dont-believe-everything-you-read

Jim Smith  

Posted: July 22nd, 2015 5:49 PM

Re: "Eighty-five percent of Americans... support universal background checks" These polls where large numbers of people support background checks ask questions like "Do you favor or oppose a federal law requiring background checks on all potential gunbuyers "? That is not the same question that is relevant with regard to legislation that is actually proposed such as the federal gun legislation that failed to pass the US Senate in 2013. In that case the appropriate question would be "do you support or oppose US Senate Bill 649 or any of its amendments"? Read the bill (SB-649) and the amendments. The title of the bill is word doctored to be innocuous but the devil is in the details and what was being proposed as part of the background check process was a litany of vague, abstruse and onerous restrictions on friends and family members that could trip them up and subject them to intimidation and entrapment by overzealous and unscrupulous authorities who are aligned with an anti-gun agenda. In addition, the hastily written Toomey amendment was worded in such a way that existing gun laws that currently protect gun owners (like a prohibiting a registry) could be circumvented by the President simply having the BATF report to DHS instead of the Attorney General.

Jim Smith  

Posted: July 22nd, 2015 5:41 PM

Re: "The fix is simple. All gun sales should be subject to a background check." Yes, the fix is simple if the totality of what you really want is universal background checks - specifically give anyone free, anonymous, public access to the federal NICS background check database of persons prohibited from owning firearms and then tell private sellers if you sell or give a firearm to someone and don't retain a piece of paper that documents you did a favorable NICS check on the buyer, you could be held liable if they commit a gun-related crime. There is no reason to get the government involved any further in the process unless you have other goals in mind like a federal registry of all firearms.

Dominick Ahrens  

Posted: July 22nd, 2015 4:56 PM

And Mr. Barrett really should rename his group from "Gun Responsibility Advocates" to "Gun Restriction Advocates", as it would be more honest and open, like the discussion the supporters of his beliefs keep claiming to desire.

Dominick Ahrens  

Posted: July 22nd, 2015 4:54 PM

"...Regarding the lack of prosecutions on lying on Form 4473s, we simply don't have the time or manpower to prosecute everybody who lies on a form, that checks a wrong box, that answers a question inaccurately." Vice Presidents Joseph Biden, Chair, Presidential Task Force on Gun Violence, January 2013. In 2010 more than 72,600 applications were denied on the basis of a background check. Prosecutors considered just 22 cases of information falsification, according to a 2012 report by the Regional Justice Information Service. Forty additional background-check cases ended up before prosecutors for reasons related to unlawful gun possession. In all, prosecutors pursued just 44 of those 62 cases, meaning the existing background check system fails 99.91% of the time, and isn't a deterrent to gun violence at all. So is it really about safety, or is it something else?

Jack Burton  

Posted: July 22nd, 2015 4:24 PM

Sorry, Ray, but ~anyone~, regardless of who they are, get no slack when they choose a path that restricts the basic freedoms of people. There are many surgeons who are strong supporters of the right to keep and bear arms because they have seen what the "helpless lambs" theory of self defense has done to their patients and the families. Barrett has chosen to jump the wrong way on this issue.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: July 22nd, 2015 4:05 PM

@ Jack, cut Dr Barrett some slack. He spent his working career elbow deep in the blood and guts of those same social deviants and thugs, trying to patch them up after their own stupidity. He seems to fail to remember that if a patient has a sucking chest wound you don't treat the wart on his foot because it is easier.

Jack Burton  

Posted: July 22nd, 2015 3:56 PM

Mr. Barrett really, in his heart, believes that thugs and social deviants are going to line up at the police station to ensure that they can pass a "background check" in order to properly own their illegally acquired guns. This is part of the famous "common sense" that people such as him use to propose non-workable, nonsensical "laws" that won't solve a single problem, and that would not have stopped any of the previous mass-murders that he wants to post about. Rainbow stickers, pixie dust, and unicorn farts are all that he has to offer the discussion.

Ray Simpson from Oak Park  

Posted: July 22nd, 2015 3:26 PM

@ Brian. My High Standard .22 pistol had a tiny little spring that we called the "Jesus spring" It was so tiny that you would lose them during cleaning - The thing would shoot off and we said "Oh Jesus I just lost another one"

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: July 22nd, 2015 2:40 PM

as part of the Universal Backround Check, Ray Heise also wanted a serial number placed on all l gun parts. When asked how do you place a serial number on a screw the size of a capital letter T, again there was no response.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: July 22nd, 2015 2:26 PM

@ Barry - That is an interesting argument I have not heard. One more arrow in our quiver. The implementation of the , yet to be defined, Universal Background Check is another problem that GRA waves off as details and will be worked out later. "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor"

Barry Hirsh  

Posted: July 22nd, 2015 1:46 PM

The authority to regulated firearms sales at retail and wholesale issues from Congress's commerce clause powers. Private sales are not commerce, and there is no constitutionally delegated power to regulate them

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: July 22nd, 2015 10:59 AM

I have commented this before. At our discussions Dr. Barrett had the floor with the topic of restrictions. I asked him to yield the floor for two minutes for a list of our restrictions. I had young Matt read a list of twelve restrictions that we as gun owners agreed to..After the list was read out loud, Dr. Basrrett smiled and said"Now we are getting somewhere" The list was the restrictions from the Illinois Firearms Owners application, restrictions all ready in place for 40 years.The question asked to Ray Heise and Dr. Barrett was, "If the UBC is adopted, does the Illinois Firearms Owners Identification Card get abolished.? No answer then, no answer now. Does Gov. Rauner give up his patronage jobs at the Illinois State Police for the UBC?The systems the same.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: July 22nd, 2015 10:02 AM

@ Jenna - The gun grabbers are zealots who believe they can solve a problem, which they fail to understand. Attacking the antisocial problem group is HARD because they live outside the law anyway. This universal background check silliness only inconveniences the lawful owner and ignores those who settle arguments by killing one another. In business solving a problem requires, first, fully understand the details of the problem. Then, acknowledge that you have a problem. Finally, develop a realistic solution. The gun grabbers have taken the easy route and facts be damned.

Jenna Brown Russell  

Posted: July 22nd, 2015 9:36 AM

Beyond that, why are there no howls from the gun-grabbers about Obama's recent sentence commutations? I am a big proponent of criminal sentencing reform, and returning to judicial judgement. However, some that were freed were in a possession of an illegal, unlicensed firearm at the time of their crime. Do we want tough gun laws enforced or not? It seems some want only to prevent non-felons from legally possessing weapons, while giving criminal possession a a free pass.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: July 21st, 2015 10:43 PM

One simple question. Dylan Roof purchased a gun from a FFL Dealer and lied on the 4473 form. Bureaucratic incompetence resulted in his felony conviction, mental incompetence and indictment were never put into the system. How would your UNIVERSAL BACKGROUND CHECK eliminate bureaucratic incompetence?

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