Gun control advocates point to one big step they believe can keep guns from criminals and the seriously mentally ill: a standardized background check for every gun sale in every state, says the Lehigh Valley Morning Call. But if universal checks are a common-sense improvement, they certainly would not be simple to create and run. In addition, many believe the checks would be ineffective in weeding out potentially dangerous people. For example, the killer in the Dec. 14 school massacre in Newtown, Conn., used guns legally owned by his mother.
Currently, each state at a minimum follows federal law, which requires background checks whenever a federally licensed dealer sells a firearm. But those checks don’t cover private sales by gun owners, which states handle in a variety of ways. In Pennsylvania, sellers verify buyers by calling a toll-free system operated by the state police. Its database is linked to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Like Pennsylvania, most states exempt from background checks some or all private sales between non-dealers. In Pennsylvania, private sales of a rifle or shotgun are exempt. Gun law experts say that while it’s relatively easy for computerized background systems to flag potential gun buyers who have disqualifying criminal records, it’s harder to identify people who shouldn’t own guns because of mental illness.