Your Guide to the Gun Debate

Myths & Facts About Background Checks

This morning, the Senate took one of its most bipartisan major votes in years when senators voted 68-31 to begin debating a package of gun violence prevention measures. Despite being supported by more than 90 percent of all Americans and nearly as many gun-owning Americans, the National Rifle Association’s implacable opposition to common sense solutions has rendered expanded background checks controversial in Congress.

Here’s your ThinkProgress guide to the myths and facts around the policy at the center of the Senate gun violence prevention bill:

Background checks are ineffective and restrictive.Checks “would significantly restrict the rights of law-abiding Americans while doing little or nothing to protect against further gun violence.” [Sen. Mike Lee,4/9/2013] Ninety percent of background checks can be completed in less than two minutes and the Manchin-Toomey proposal would expedite the process. Under the amendment, if a background check at a gun show does not result in a definitive response within 48 hours, the sale may proceed. After four years, the background check would be required to be conducted in 24 hours. Background checks have already contributed to violence reduction. In the 14 states and Washington D.C. that require background checks for private handgun sales (including Toomey’s home state of Pennsylvania): 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners, 17 percent fewer firearms are involved in aggravated assaults, and 48 percent less gun trafficking.
Criminals will avoid background checks. “My problem with background checks is, you’re never going to get criminals to go through universal background checks.” [Wayne LaPierre, 1/30/2013] From 1999 to 2009, 1.8 million people were blocked from purchasing guns after failing a background check because they had criminal records or suffered from mental illness. In fact, Seung Hui Cho, the shooter at Virginia Tech and Jared Loughner, who targeted Gabby Giffords, both obtained their guns legally and slipped through the cracksof the existing background check system. The Manchin-Toomey bill addresses this by encouraging states to provide their available records into the federal database and directing future grant money towards creating systems to send records into the database. The bill will also reduce federal funds to states that do not comply.
Background checks will lead to a gun registry. “The Democrats’ proposed legislation would require universal background checks for private sales between law-abiding citizens, which according to DOJ would be effective only if accompanied by a national gun registry. ” [Sen. Ted Cruz, 4/9/2013] Federally licensed gun dealers have conducted background checks for more than 40 years without ever creating a national gun registry, which federal lawspecifically prohibits. Under this agreement, federal dealers would conduct screenings for private sellers and keep the record; the federal government would not. When a gun is recovered at a violent crime, law enforcement can use the records to track down the perpetrator. All information identifying the buyer generated by the background check would be destroyed by law enforcement within 24 hours. The Manchin-Toomey amendment explicitly bans the federal government from creating a registry in three different places and treats the misuse of records for the pursue of creating a registry as a felony punishable by 15 years in prison. From the legislative language: 




Background checks wouldn’t have prevented Newtown.“The reality is, when you look at the tragedy of Newtown, nothing that’s been proposed would have any effect on that at all.” [Sen. John Boozman,4/10/2013] As Toomey admitted during a press conference announcing the measure, background checks will not prevent every gun crime, but they can keep hundreds of thousands of people who shouldn’t have weapons from obtaining them. For instance, it’s estimated that 62 percent of private gun sellers on the Internet and 63 percent of private sellers at gun shows have agreed to sell a firearm to buyers who said they probably couldn’t pass a background check. More than 6.6 million gun sales were transferred in 2012 without a criminal background check and a survey of prisoners who committed crimes with handguns found nearly 80 percent of them acquired their firearm from a person who was not a licensed dealer.
Obama isn’t prosecuting people who fail background checks. “[T]he Obama Administration has failed to make this a priority — in 2010, out of more than 15,700 fugitives and felons who tried to illegally purchase a firearm, the Obama Justice Department prosecuted only 44.” [Sen. Ted Cruz,3/28/2013] Federal firearm prosecutions has remained steady, varying by no more than 5 percent each year, data from the Department of Justice reveals. Republicans and the NRA specifically cherry pick prosecutions for background checks to imply that the Obama administration has stopped enforcing existing law, though it has gone after gun-related crimes at the same rate as its predecessors.Law enforcement officials often see these cases as a poor use of resources because prosecutors must prove that “the person knew they were lying when they tried to purchase the firearm” in order to secure a conviction which “usually carries a maximum sentence of just six months.”
Obama isn’t enforcing the laws on the books. “It’s not about new gun laws; it’s about enforcing the ones we have.” [Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), 4/4/2013] The laws on the books are inadequate. Criminals and mentally ill individuals can buy guns at gun shows or online and many who go through a federally licensed dealer often slip through the cracks because states are not putting records into the NICS system. In fact, following the Newtown tragedy, the NRA successfully attached riders to the resolution funding the government through September that limited enforcement tools against crooked dealers and interfered with ATF gun trace reports. That’s why the Manchin-Toomey bill expands checks and improves the existing system.
Background checks are an invasion of privacy. “You just worry that you’re going to see searches of the databases and an expansion for purposes that were not intended when the information was collected.” [ACLU, 4/4/2013] Federally licensed gun dealers have successfully performed millions of background checks without violating personal privacy and Americans disclose personal information to the DMV or the IRS and their data is successfully walled off from nefarious uses.

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Advocacy Team