How Gun Background Check System Singles Out Blacks For Scrutiny


Among President Obama’s executive actions aimed at tightening gun control is closing the so-called “gun show loophole” that provides a means for some private buyers to circumvent background checks. By law, the 130,000 federally licensed firearms dealers are required to submit information on all prospective buyers through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Gun-control advocates have called expanding this mandate to include small, private sellers “the single most important gun violence prevention measure that the government could adopt.” The Daily Beast says NICS has operated largely as a blunt-force instrument influenced by decades of criminal justice policies that are statistically proven to single out minorities for heightened scrutiny. More than half of the 1.3 million prospective gun buyers flagged by NICS since it went operational in 1998 (nearly 700,000 people) were disqualified for having been convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year in prison. The vast majority of these crimes are felonies.

Another 110,000 are barred from gun ownership because they are users of illicit drugs. Because the FBI doesn't publish data on the criminal histories of prohibited persons flagged by NICS, how many area real threat to public safety is anybody’s guess. What's indisputable is that the number of Americans who would be prohibited from purchasing a firearm has grown considerably under the war on drugs, and a disproportionate number of them are African Americans charged with nonviolent offenses. Last year in Florida—where African-American adults are 35 percent more likely than white adults with a similar crime record to have a felony record—a 62-year-old African-American man was tackled to the ground by two white men in a Walmart. His crime? Legally carrying a handgun.

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