Gun Background Check System Called “Wildly Inconsistent” Among States


The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is supposed to keep guns from dangerous people, is riddled with problems, says the New York Times, citing the ability of South Carolina shooter Dylann Roof and Louisiana gunman John Houser to buy firearms despite legal disqualifications. While the system, dating from 1998, has prevented 2.4 million sales, it has major gaps, with spotty cooperation from states and a narrow definition of who is considered too mentally ill to own a gun. “It works tremendously well when it's given the tools to work,” said Dan Gross of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “But it's widely inconsistent from state to state.” The National Rifle Association has argued that the system and the database of prohibited buyers should be repaired before other controls are considered. Gun control advocates say that ignores the fact that 40 percent of gun sales are exempt from checks because the seller is a private party, often online or at a gun show.

Federally licensed gun dealers are required to conduct a background check before each gun purchase, but private sellers are not. Under federal law, the list of prohibited buyers is supposed to include people convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors, drug abusers and those convicted of certain drug crimes, and anyone whom a court has involuntarily committed for being dangerously mentally ill. There is no requirement that the states participate in adding names to the database. Some states have put hundreds of thousands of people with involuntary commitments on the list over the years, but in other states, the figure is in the single digits, according to records kept by both the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the gun industry, and gun control advocates.

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