Editorial: Scoring a bull’s-eye on gun-purchase background checks

Gun Rights

It’s basic common sense supported by more than 90% of Americans and wholly consistent with the Second Amendment: Anyone buying a firearm needs a background check. That’s what prevents felons and people with domestic violence protective orders and those suffering from serious mental illness from obtaining deadly weapons, and it’s what separates illegal guns, which not even NRA zealots say they want on the streets, from legal guns.

Yet for a quarter-century, a glaring loophole has persisted. Despite federal law mandating background checks on all gun sales by licensed dealers, there’s been no such requirement on sales between unlicensed third parties, the type that often occur at gun shows and online. It’s a loophole large enough to drive a truck full of handguns through — one that a number of states have closed, but that others let people exploit every day.

A 2021 investigation by the Mike Bloomberg-funded Everytown for Gun Safety found that nearly 1 in 9 of the guns sold at giant online gun marketplace Armslist wouldn’t pass a federal background check. Just last week, the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reported that the number of illegally trafficked firearms is on the rise. The White House estimates that more than a fifth of the guns are being bought without a background check.

Hopefully, the era of open defiance may soon come to an end, thanks to the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act signed by President Biden in 2022 — and rules codifying those statutory changes just finalized by the Justice Department. Barring a successful 11th-hour legal challenge, they’ll go into effect in 30 days.

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No, closing the loophole won’t make it hard for legitimate buyers to buy guns the right way. The nation is awash in gun dealers; there are nearly 59,000 of them, four times as many as there are McDonald’s.

Nor will it prevent collectors or people who want to get rid of guns they inherited from selling guns on the private market. This is a carefully written, 466-page regulation that is aimed at anyone “engaged in the business” of selling guns at a profit.

There’s no regulation that’ll magically vacuum up the mountains of illegal guns that flood our cities; that requires robust enforcement by the likes of the NYPD, which seizes thousands of such guns a year.

But federal laws that make it harder for people to obtain illegal weapons in the first place can make it a little easier on cops who walk the streets never knowing whether a person they encounter might be armed, a task made even more difficult after the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association vs. Bruen, which invalidated New York State’s tough licensing regime.

After mass shootings shocked the nation, Donald Trump talked bigly about brokering a bipartisan compromise on guns — then promptly folded to the far right in the Republican Party, and got nothing done.

Under Biden, Congress managed to pass the most significant gun safety legislation in a generation, and now has followed through on that meaningful victory with a rule change that will mean fewer sales to criminals and unstable people. This, as the number of homicides nationwide is in the midst of a steep, 21% year-over-year decline in 186 American cities.

This is what progress toward a safer nation feels like.

This editorial was adapted from one published by the New York Daily News Editorial Board. The Sentinel often adapts editorials that reflect our overall point of view. The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Opinion Editor Krys Fluker, Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson and Viewpoints Editor Jay Reddick. Contact us at insight@orlandosentinel.com

FILE - In this March 25, 2020, file photo semi-automatic handguns are displayed at shop in New Castle, Pa. The number of people stopped from buying guns though the U.S. background check system hit an all-time high of more than 300,000 last year amid a surge of firearm sales, according to new records obtained by the group Everytown for Gun Safety. The FBI numbers provided to The Associated Press show the background checks blocked nearly twice as many gun sales in 2020 as in the year before. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
FILE – In this March 25, 2020, file photo semi-automatic handguns are displayed at shop in New Castle, Pa. The number of people stopped from buying guns though the U.S. background check system hit an all-time high of more than 300,000 last year amid a surge of firearm sales, according to new records obtained by the group Everytown for Gun Safety. The FBI numbers provided to The Associated Press show the background checks blocked nearly twice as many gun sales in 2020 as in the year before. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
(FILES) This file photo taken on November 5, 2016 shows hand guns for sale at a gun shop in Merrimack, New Hampshire.Support for background checks for gun purchases and a ban on sales of assault weapons have reached new highs among US voters following a series of mass shootings, according to a poll published on November 15, 2017. Ninety-five percent of the 1,577 people surveyed in the Quinnipiac University poll said they support requiring background checks for all gun buyers.Only four percent said they were opposed. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTERDOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images
(FILES) This file photo taken on November 5, 2016 shows hand guns for sale at a gun shop in Merrimack, New Hampshire.Support for background checks for gun purchases and a ban on sales of assault weapons have reached new highs among US voters following a series of mass shootings, according to a poll published on November 15, 2017. Ninety-five percent of the 1,577 people surveyed in the Quinnipiac University poll said they support requiring background checks for all gun buyers.Only four percent said they were opposed. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTERDOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images
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