The U.S. House vote to expand background checks for gun purchases was a victory for supporters of common-sense gun reform. While the measure faces a steep climb in the Senate and a promised veto from President Donald Trump, Americans should be heartened that more lawmakers are heeding their call for action on the scourge of gun violence.
The bill approved Thursday would wisely lengthen the maximum time allowed for FBI background checks for all gun purchases from three days to 10. That longer time period almost certainly would have prevented Dylann Roof, with his criminal record, from buying the gun he used to kill nine parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in 2015. The racially motivated shooting led to the three-day time limit being dubbed the “Charleston loophole.”
The numbers bear out the need for better background checks. From 2010 to 2014, there were an astounding 15,729 gun sales that should have been denied but went forward by default because the three-day window on background checks had closed, according to the Giffords Center.
In 2016, over 4,000 guns were sold to people who should not have been able to buy one because of a criminal record, mental illness or other disqualifying issue, according to U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-S.C.
Mr. Cunningham introduced the bill along with fellow South Carolina Democrat Jim Clyburn and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.
“Today, members of the House of Representatives addressed those who have lost loved ones due to gun violence not just with thoughts and prayers but with action,” Rep. Cunningham said. “It is long past time we closed the Charleston loophole and gave law enforcement the time necessary to make sure dangerous people don’t end up with deadly weapons they are prohibited from obtaining. I am incredibly proud we passed this common-sense, bipartisan legislation and I urge my colleagues in the Senate to do the same.”
Nine out of 10 background checks go through quickly. It’s not unreasonable to give law enforcement the time to properly do its job and ensure a potential buyer is eligible to purchase a weapon. That’s a small inconvenience when weighed against the potential for catastrophe.
A separate bill passed by the House on Wednesday requires all firearm sellers to conduct a background check, both licensed and unlicensed.
In the Senate, Republicans Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and others have asked U.S. Attorney General William Barr for information about the Fix NICS Act, which also relates to problems with the federal background check system.
These are welcome actions in response to a nation awash in gun violence. It’s impractical and just plain wrong to say we can’t do anything about it. There is no doubt that existing laws must be better enforced, but where other safety improvements can be made, we should make them. A majority of Americans favor doing just that with expanded background checks.
The vast majority of gun owners are responsible and law abiding, so it’s unfortunate that the bad actors make it necessary to put more safeguards in place. But we can’t read people’s minds or divine their intentions, so we must do what we can to protect ourselves from those who would harm us and protect others from harming themselves.
While the House bills may face insurmountable roadblocks going forward, they should be viewed as a hopeful sign. The discussion they generated also is valuable in keeping the issue in the spotlight, rather than waiting for yet another tragedy to bring it into the national consciousness. We encourage other lawmakers to heed the call for common-sense gun reform.