With near-unanimous support, it’s time to pass universal background checks

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When it comes to gun violence, Americans are tired. Tired of grieving. Tired of witnessing friends, family and neighbors die as a result of everyday violence — whether it is community violence, firearm suicide, mass shootings, or domestic violence perpetrated with firearms. Tired of watching policymakers offer “thoughts and prayers” but taking little action. Gun violence in all its forms is a public health crisis, and Americans are desperate for solutions.

In the current political climate, it is difficult to find an issue that 94 percent of American voters support. But a 2019 Quinnipiac University poll found that 94 percent of American voters support universal background checks. This number includes 90 percent of gun owners — a figure that may surprise those who associate gun owners with the increasingly radical National Rifle Association (NRA).

People of all political stripes support universal background checks because this tool is a commonsense policy to address our nation’s gun violence epidemic. Universal background checks serve as the foundation for many other important gun violence prevention policies, including extreme risk laws and laws to disarm domestic abusers. Without universal background checks, however, these additional policies are less effective. 

Our current background check system, while imperfect, has helped keep guns out of the hands of people who may pose a threat to themselves or others. Since the passage of the 1993 Brady Act, which requires anyone purchasing a gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer to undergo a background check, over 3 million applications have been denied because the applicant was legally prohibited from owning a gun. 

However, the law has its limitations, and state and federal legislators could and should make significant changes to protect their constituents. Perhaps most notably, the law excludes sellers who are not federally licensed firearms dealers from performing background checks, which allows individuals who want to avoid a background check to buy firearms through these unlicensed sellers. This private sale loophole creates a major problem by allowing those who may be a danger to themselves or others to easily buy guns. According to a 2015 survey, nearly one in four gun owners who acquired guns within the last two years did so without a background check. And those who are prohibited are more likely to purchase a gun without a background check in states that do not regulate private gun sales

Additionally, guns purchased in states with weak gun laws are often trafficked to states with stronger background check laws, creating a problematic pipeline with deadly consequences. States without background checks on private sales also have higher rates of guns trafficked to cities within the state, which often exacerbates gun violence. Our flawed background check system creates a thriving illegal firearms market. Research finds that universal background checks at the state level reduce illegal trafficking significantly.

We need a universal background check law that requires background checks on all gun sales and transfers, including private and online sales. A federal universal background check law would help prevent the diversion of firearms into the illegal market and in turn, reduce gun violence. President BidenJoe BidenCriminal justice group urges clemency for offenders released to home confinement during pandemic Progressive poll: Majority supports passing Biden agenda through reconciliation Transportation moves to ban airline ticket sales to Belarus amid arrest of opposition journalist MORE has pledged to do all he can to close background check loopholes and take other important steps to stop gun violence in the United States, but he needs support from Congress. With the House of Representatives passing a universal background checks bill earlier this year, it is now time for senators — especially Republican senators — to follow suit. 

Stronger gun laws are important in the fight to stop gun violence, and universal background checks are a critical first step. Americans deserve universal background checks at the state and federal levels. While background checks alone are not the solution to gun violence in America, they are an important policy to build upon. Ensuring prohibited buyers are stopped from purchasing guns, background checks can save lives. 

Bryan Barks is the director of Strategic Communications at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the nation’s oldest gun violence prevention organization. Follow the organization on Twitter @CSGV.

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