Stricter Background Checks Could Prevent Mass Shootings: Study

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Illustration by Kostya Vacuum via Flickr

If comprehensive background checks on firearm purchasers and gun violence restraining orders were properly designed, widely enacted and adequately implemented in the U.S., many lives lost to mass shootings and suicide could be prevented, argues a new report by the New England Journal of Medicine. 

Author Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Intervention Program at UC Davis Heath, argued that some of the most deadly mass shootings in U..S history could have been avoided if stricter background checks were conducted.

He highlighted several recent mass shootings where a communication breakdown or lack of reporting prevented background check policies from safeguarding people and communities.

For instance, he noted that the FBI failed to act fast enough after it had received credible threats of violence about the former student who eventually shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

Wintemute said the shooter who killed 25 and wounded another 20 at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, should have been prohibited from purchasing firearms because of a prior domestic violence conviction.

Mass shootings at a South Carolina church, Arizona supermarket, Colorado movie theater and Virginia university similarly were preventable, Wintemute wrote.

“Using background checks to prevent those prohibited from owning firearms is associated with a reduction of at least 25 percent in their incidence of arrest for a firearm-related or other violent crime,” he said. 

“But in many states, transactions between private parties are exempt from background check requirements, and 22 percent of all firearm transfers nationwide proceed without a check being done.”

While comprehensive background checks and gun violence restraining orders may not function perfectly, governments still should enact such measures, he concluded. 

Whintemute made the following recommendations to strengthen policies:

▪ Enact background check requirements for private-party firearm sales and commit to adequate enforcement.

▪ Enact gun violence restraining order policies.

▪ Urge Congress to update the language in relevant statutes, enforce existing reporting requirements, support state efforts to submit records, and enact federal background check requirements for all firearm sales.

A full copy of the report can be found here.

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