Senate should hold hearings on background checks

On March 26 the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on extreme risk laws, which allow law enforcement or family members who know that someone is an immediate risk to himself or others to petition a judge that firearms should temporarily be removed from such a person. The hearings were a model of bi-partisan fact-finding that could lead to life-saving federal legislation.

At the hearings there was also bi-partisan support for requiring background checks on all gun sales, as in H.R. 8, a bill recently passed by the House. Now it’s time to hold hearings on that issue too.

ADVERTISEMENT

Many Americans, especially young people, have a great deal to tell the Senators about the need to improve our background check system. Gun violence is the second leading cause of death of children and teens in America, and the numbers are increasing rapidly. A study by Ashish P. Thakrar, which compared health data from 2001 through 2010 in twenty developed countries, found that people in the U.S. age 15–19 were 82 times more likely to die from gun homicide than teens that age in other wealthy nations. More recent 2011-2017 Centers for Disease Control data show that since that study, the U.S. firearm homicide rate increased 20 percent among this age group.

No wonder so many young people across the country joined the Parkland students to demand expanding our background check system to help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. Most adults agree with them. Ninety-two percent of Americans support “requiring background checks for all gun buyers,” according to a Quinnipiac poll released January 14.

But unfortunately, the gun lobby opposes requiring background checks on all gun sales. That’s simply because current loopholes in our background check system help the gun industry sell more guns. Criminals and other dangerous “prohibited persons,” such as domestic abusers, are especially likely to purchase firearms without background checks. That leads to more gun crimes and more gun deaths.

When H.R. 8 passed the House, its opponents argued that gun laws don’t work — criminals will always find a way to get guns no matter what. But that’s not true. When Connecticut required all handgun buyers to pass a background check, the state’s gun homicide rate dropped 40 percent. On the other hand, when Missouri repealed its law requiring purchaser licensing and handgun background checks, studies found that its firearm homicide rate increased by 17 to 27 percent.

The bi-partisan support for extreme risk laws in evidence at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings offered hope for similar support for expanding background checks.

With inspiration from a new generation of young activists, our nation is eager to require background checks on all gun buyers.  Holding Senate Judiciary Committee hearings is a vital first step. 

Griffin Dix, Ph.D., is President of the Oakland/Alameda County (Calif.) Brady chapter and served on the Brady Board of Trustees from 2006 through 2008. He was Research Director at MacWEEK. His 15-year-old son was shot and killed in 1994. Since his son was killed, Dix has worked with a coalition that has helped to pass many state laws to prevent gun violence, including laws establishing semiautomatic handgun product safety standards. He is writing a memoir about the loss of his son, his lawsuit against Beretta USA and his work on gun violence prevention. Follow him on Twitter @griffindix.