Gun Laws Are Easy to Skirt
The massacre on Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. has pushed gun control onto the national stage – again. The shootings point up how easy it already is to skirt the existing laws that cover age restrictions, waiting periods, mental health checks, and gun show purchases.
President Barack Obama has called for swift federal action to end the wave of gun violence that seems to be breaking over the country, including:
- The massacre on July 20 in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.
- A rampage shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Aug. 5
- Another on Dec. 11 in a mall outside Portland, Ore.
A federal law that limits handgun purchases to people 21 and older is currently being appealed. But that law doesn’t prohibit kids from being given or owning guns. It’s pretty simple: children get guns from their parents, who often own them legally. That’s exactly what happened with Adam Lanza, who was 20.
In some states gun purchasers are required to wait a period of time between purchasing and actually possessing the gun. The waiting times vary from three days for a handgun in Florida to two weeks in Connecticut.
But there is no federal law on this subject, and it’s easy enough to get around by going to a gun show.
Gun shows allow private dealers to meet with the public and sell all kinds of weapons. They are loosely regulated by states, if they are regulated at all. Most notably, private dealers are not required to run federal background checks.
“Because unlicensed, private sellers are exempt from the federal background check requirement, this creates a loophole that enables certain categories of persons prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms – such as felons, domestic violence perpetrators and mentally ill individuals – to obtain them,” according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
“Likewise, private sellers at gun shows (and elsewhere) are not required to maintain records of sales.”
Mental Health Checks
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is a federal system that requires federal firearms licensees (FFLs) – licensed gun dealers – to instantly check the records of a gun purchaser at the point of sale.
NICS was established in 1998 by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, passed in honor of James Brady who was shot during an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
The NICS accesses a database of records of people with convictions for domestic violence, drug abuse, and stalking. But as far as mental health issues, only people who have been found by a court to be mentally defective or were committed to a mental institution are covered by NICS. (Lanza would not have been covered by this system, nor would any of the other perpetrators of the recent spate of mass shootings.)
Furthermore, states are not submitting the information they should in order for the program to keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people.