Could Tighter Background Checks Make a Big Difference in Gun Violence?


In 1990, a Gallup Poll said 78 percent of Americans supported tougher restrictions on gun sales. A decade later, that number fell to 44 percent. Part of the reason, reports NPR has to do with how the debate has been framed: one between those who want to ban all guns and those who want to protect the right to own them. The reality is far more complex. Private gun ownership is a fact of life in the U.S. The country tops the charts worldwide in terms of civilian gun ownership. A 2007 study from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported there were 270 million private firearms in the U.S.

The question is how to keep them away from people who perpetrate crimes like the recent shootings in Aurora, Co., and in Oak Creek, Wi. That’s the tricky part — partially because getting a gun in the U.S. can be fairly easy. At the Blue Ridge Arsenal in Virginia, sales rep Mark Warner says the process can take only about 25 minutes. You pick any gun, fill out a form and wait for approval. “If you’re a law-abiding citizen and you don’t have a criminal record and the computer likes you in Richmond, you’re done in 15-25 minutes,” he says. Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, says 40 percent of legally sold guns are sold without a background check. That includes the guns sold at gun shows or through classified ads, where legal loopholes don’t require background checks. He argues that a few simple changes — tighter background checks, a ban on certain types of weapons — could make a difference.

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