Responding to growing public support for reasonable laws that could reduce gun violence, the Washington Legislature is considering a bill that would require background checks for all gun sales, including gun shows and private transactions. It’s a move in the right direction, supported by 74 percent of National Rifle Association members who responded to a January online survey by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.Another supporter is Republican state Rep. Mike Hope, one of the bill’s sponsors. He’s a Seattle police officer, and in the past he’s drawn highly favorable ratings from the NRA, which now is campaigning against his legislation.
But this whole issue isn’t about the NRA. It’s about taking meaningful steps to keep guns away from criminals, people with mental health issues, and under-age buyers. Those who argue against background checks for gun sales are arguing against a certain segment of the status quo. Background checks already are required when purchasing a gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer.
Hope’s bill recently underwent a couple of modifications that answer concerns from critics. Under one change, agencies that conduct background checks would have to destroy search records after the sale is completed. This addresses the worry that transaction records ultimately could lead to some type of registry of gun owners.
Another change would make private parties exempt to the background check if the buyer has a concealed pistol license. This, too, makes sense because it avoids duplicative background checks.
Notice how this bill in no way restricts the rights of people who are allowed by law to own guns. Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat got it right: “The point isn’t to bar people from having guns. It’s to put a speed bump in the way of felons, teenagers or anyone else who shouldn’t have one.”
Westneat quoted Hope: “If you are a felon, you already can’t go to a gun shop to get a gun because there’s a background check. So where do you think they get them?” The columnist answered: “Some steal them. But others sometimes buy them on the huge ‘off-the-grid’ private sales market.”
One of the most absurd arguments we’ve heard against reasonable gun laws is that, if the law is passed, criminals will still break the law. That same warped logic could be applied to any law. Indeed, murderers ignore the law, but it’s still a necessary law. And rational efforts to make guns more difficult for criminals to access are needed in today’s society. As an editorial in The Spokesman-Review of Spokane concluded: “About 1 percent of gun transactions were denied by background checks between 1998 and 2008, according to FBI data. That sounds low, but it stopped 681,000 purchases. Some of the would-be buyers headed to the private market. The state needs to close this dangerous loophole.”
Opposition, of course, is expected. Republicans in the state Senate are putting up a fuss. But recent tragedies nationwide have cast a whole new urgency on the need for a wide panoply of solutions, none of which will make the problem go away, but all of which together could reduce future tragedies.