The use of background checks in purchasing firearms has come into question since the Arizona shooting more than two weeks ago. The role of mental health history, the comprehensiveness of background checks, and loopholes have all been brought up through newspaper editorials and, in some cases, proposed legislation. While mental health and the thoroughness of background checks are new to the national conversation, loopholes have been discussed on state and national levels for over the past year.
Representative Ackerman reintroduced legislation in the House for keeping guns away from violent criminals and the mentally ill. The piece in The Hill states that this legislation would prevent unlicensed dealers from selling without performing background checks on buyers. Although Rep. Ackerman proposed this bill previously, it is now more relevant than in years past.
Loopholes are often associated with gun shows, but they are not the only instance in which background checks are not used to purchase firearms. Background screenings are not required of dealers at gun shows and not of those attending. As a result, those with a criminal or mental health record can attend and purchase firearms without any questioning.
Unlicensed dealers are also part of problem. Licensed dealers are required to conduct background checks on every person wanting to purchase a firearm. If a dealer loses his license, however, he can continue to sell guns and is not legally required to screen buyers. Those who have a criminal background or who are considered “mentally unfit” can go to an unlicensed dealer and purchase a gun.
Although Rep. Ackerman’s legislation may not pass, it brings up an issue concerning firearms that has primarily been discussed on a state level. While a lack of criminals purchasing firearms at gun shows is an argument against background checks, precautions still need to be taken in any venue – store or gun show – where firearms are sold.