Requiring a criminal background check for all gun sales is the single most effective policy for keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people and saving lives.
One of the key reasons America has such a high rate of gun violence is that we have weak laws that are riddled with loopholes, which let dangerous people obtain guns. No gap is more glaring than the one in our federal background checks law, which allows felons, domestic abusers, and the dangerously mentally ill to purchase firearms at gun shows and online without undergoing a background check.
In states that require background checks for all handgun sales 47% fewer women are shot to death by their intimate partners, there are 47% fewer firearm suicides, and 53% fewer law enforcement officers are shot to death by handguns. Simply put, background checks save lives.
Existing Loopholes in the Background Check System
The Gun Control Act of 1968 made it illegal for prohibited purchasers, such as convicted felons and the dangerously mentally ill, to purchase or possess firearms, and in 1993, the Brady Act strengthened this law by requiring background checks on gun purchases. But the Brady Act only requires background checks for sales by licensed firearms dealers. Unlicensed sellers, whether they do business online, at gun shows, or from the trunk of their car, are not required to conduct background checks on gun buyers.
The FBI uses the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to determine whether a potential buyer is prohibited from purchasing firearms, and over 90 percent background checks are done instantly. However, if a background check requires further investigation by the FBI and that investigation is not completed within three days, the purchase is allowed to proceed by default. This is how the gunman who murdered nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston obtained his weapon, even though he should have been prohibited.
The Effectiveness of Background Checks
Since the NICS system has been in place, over 225 million background checks have been conducted, most instantaneously. Over two million firearms sales to prohibited purchasers have been denied since passage of the Brady Act in 1993.
The correlation between strong background check laws, chief among them universal background checks, and reduced gun death rates is well-documented.
For example, in 2007 Missouri repealed its permit-to-purchase handgun law, which required background checks on all handgun sales, and saw its gun homicide rate jump 25%, its share of crime guns recovered in-state grew 25%, and its share of crime guns recovered within two years of their original sale double, a key indicator of crime gun trafficking.
Conversely, Connecticut saw its gun homicide rate drop 40% and its gun suicide rate drop 15% after implementing a permit-to-purchase handgun law that required applicants to pass a background check in order to purchase a handgun from any seller.
Who Supports Background Checks?
- 93% of gun owners support requiring a background check for all gun sales.
- 94% of Republicans support requiring a background check for all gun sales