Closing Loopholes in Background Checks

Written by Kristin Huntoon, PhD, DO, Ohio State University Neurological Surgery

Oregon this past Monday became the eighth state to expand criminal background checks to include all private gun sales, including transactions on the Internet, when Governor Kate Brown signed the bill into law.

New research, released this past February by the American Bar association, firearms killed 33,636 Americans in 2013, which is an average of over 92 deaths per day. It also states that in 2013 people under the age of 25 accounted for 36 percent of firearm-related deaths and injuries. Additionally, the report predicts that this year, gun-related deaths will outnumber deaths caused by car accidents for the first time in national history. These are outrageous “public health statistics” that our elected leaders and policy-makers should stop ignoring.

The cost, both in dollars, as detailed in this new investigation “What does Gun Violence Really Cost” (Mother Jones, May/June 2015) and in lives, as demonstrated in the facts above is unacceptable from a public health perspective. It’s time to deploy the public health tools that worked to reduce the death and injury caused tobacco, lead paint and motor vehicles to reduce gun deaths and injuries.

Closing loopholes that allow guns to be purchased without requiring a background check is good place to start. Federal law currently only requires licensed firearms dealers to perform background checks on prospective purchasers and to maintain records of the sales. But unlicensed private sellers at gun shows and online are not required to observe the same policies, which allows people to buy and transfer firearms without first passing a background check. Because of this loophole, Forty percent of guns sold in the U.S. are done so without a background check, according to a 2014 report by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Many wrongly argue background check laws do not work. However, the evidence shows otherwise — since the Brady Law was enacted in 1994, background checks have stopped more than 2 million gun purchases by people who may pose a risk to public safety, such as felons and domestic abusers, according to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Additionally, a recent report by Everytown for Gun Safety found states with expanded background checks see:

  • 46 percent fewer women murdered with guns by intimate partners,
  • 48 percent fewer law enforcement officers killed by guns, and
  • 48 percent fewer gun-related suicides.

This fall, U.S House Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Peter King (R-NY) reintroduced HR 1217, the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act of 2015. This bi-partisan legislation closes loopholes in the current background check system and would keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, the dangerously mentally ill, and criminals. Provisions in the bill are consistent with NPA’s positions as outlined in the NPA Policy Statement: Gun Violence – A Public Health Issue. Readers can find the full bill text, as well as a list of current co-sponsors here.

I encourage readers who are interested in learning more about the enormous public health impact gun violence has in our communities and what physicians and medical students can do to encourage commonsense firearm policies in our states and nation to check out this white paper done by NPA and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence: Gun Safety & Public Health: Policy Recommendations for a More Secure America.