Universal Background Checks Would Have Prevented the Odessa Shooting
This past Saturday, a gunman who had previously failed a background check used an AR-style rifle to murder seven people and injure at least 22 in Odessa and Midland, Texas. Despite the fact that the shooter failed a background check in 2014 for mental health reasons, loopholes in our federal laws allowed him to obtain an AR-style weapon from an unlicensed seller who wasn’t required to run a background check.
The Odessa Shooter Shouldn’t Have Been Able to Buy a Gun
The gunman’s murderous rampage was precipitated by his being fired from his job at an oilfield services company. He and his company both called 911 before the rampage began, and the gunman also called the FBI’s tip line. After the man was pulled over for a traffic violation, he shot one of the troopers and escaped, later hijacking a postal van and continuing his rampage from this vehicle. This individual shouldn’t have been able to legally purchase a gun.
This shooting happened less than a month after a shooting in El Paso in which a gunman motivated by racism killed 22 people at a Walmart. The state’s weak gun laws do little to protect residents from gun violence. Throughout the state, someone is killed by a gun every three hours.
“We must keep guns out of criminals’ hands,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted. We couldn’t agree more. Our current federal laws aren’t working: A 2017 study estimated that 22% of US gun owners acquired their most recent firearm without a background check—which translates to millions of people obtaining millions of guns, no questions asked, each year.
To keep guns out of criminals’ hands, we need to close loopholes in federal law that allows prohibited purchasers to buy guns online, at gun shows, and in person-to-person sales.
Loopholes in Federal Law Allow Far Too Many Dangerous Individuals to Buy Guns
Federal law prohibits certain people, including individuals with felony convictions and those with involuntary mental health commitments, from obtaining or possessing firearms. This law is enforced primarily through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which licensed gun dealers are required to contact before selling or transferring a firearm. Since its implementation in the 1990s, NICS has stopped over three million gun sales or transfers to prohibited purchasers from licensed dealers.
However, dangerous loopholes in federal law allow people prohibited from purchasing or possessing guns to acquire them far too easily. Under current federal law, unlicensed sellers can sell guns at gun shows, online, and person-to-person without conducting any background check on the purchaser.
As the tragedy in Odessa made devastatingly clear, this loophole can have dangerous consequences. Up to 80% of firearms used for criminal purposes are obtained through private-party transfers where a background check wouldn’t be required.
Twelve states and the District of Columbia have taken action to close these loopholes by requiring universal background checks at the point of sale for all sales and transfers of all classes of firearms, whether they are purchased from a licensed dealer or an unlicensed seller. Until we close these loopholes at the federal level, our inconsistent patchwork of state laws leaves far too many American vulnerable.
The Senate Must Pass H.R. 8 to Close These Loopholes
At the beginning of the 116th Congress, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, a bill that mirrors the most comprehensive and up-to-date versions of state universal background check laws. H.R. 8 requires background checks for all gun sales, with reasonable and narrowly defined exceptions.
The message that many gun lobby supporters have parroted since the Odessa and Midland shooting—that gun laws don’t work—is contradicted by an abundance of evidence.
In the ten states with the strongest gun laws, Americans are three times less likely to die from gun violence than in the ten states with the weakest gun laws. And background checks don’t infringe on Second Amendment rights. Background checks are typically completed in under 90 seconds, and background checks laws are consistently upheld in the courts.
Universal background checks have the support of over 90 percent of Americans. The business community—including leading companies such as Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, TOMS Shoes, and Levi Strauss Co. —has urged lawmakers to take action to address our nation’s gun violence crisis.
It’s long past time for our leaders to listen to the will of the American people and take action to address this epidemic.
Tell your senators to do their job and vote on H.R. 8.