As we head into a new year, President Obama is expected to take long-awaited action on gun law reform by expanding when background checks are required for gun purchases. Obama is meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday to discuss a three-month review of what actions he could take to help reduce gun violence.
As it stands today, only purchasers who buy guns through a seller with a federal firearms license (FFL) are subject to background checks. They are considered “engaged in the business” of selling guns. Private sellers, including those who buy and sell guns as a hobby are not required to conduct background checks on prospective buyers, nor are people who purchase guns through online gun exchanges like Armslist.com or via private Facebook groups. A gun seller could easily and without their knowledge sell a firearm to someone who is a prohibited purchaser. Estimates suggest that as many as 40% of guns in American trade hands without background checks.
Since the of NICS (the National Instant Check System) inception 17 years ago, the FBI counts over 1.2 million “federal denials”, most due to the individual’s criminal history. Other reasons include “adjudicated mental health” (20,687) and the purchaser being an “illegal/unlawful alien” (16,246). The relevant and pressing question is, of course, how many more dangerous people could be prevented from buying a gun if the definition of “engaged in the business” was extended to include private sellers?
Although a loud and very vocal minority will no doubt be angry about the President’s actions – whatever they actually turn on to be, it’s very important to note the broad, even overwhelming, support for measures to expand background checks.
Depending on the poll, Americans support expanding background checks to all guns sales by anywhere from 85-89%.
A Pew Research Poll conducted over the summer showed that 85% of those polled supported background checks for gun shows and private sales – including 88% of Democrats pulled and 79% of Republicans.
In two recent polls conducted in Tennessee, one by MTSU and one by Vanderbilt, the citizen of Tennessee support background checks for all gun sales by 84% and 85% respectively. What other issue do that many Tennesseans agree on?
Although there will be outcry over the President’s stance on the issue, he’s only doing what the citizens want, what congress has refused to do, and what, in the face of the never ending gun violence epidemic in our country, his own conscience compels him to do.
The NRA and its supporters say that expanding background checks would not have stopped Newtown or Charleston or Chattanooga or Aurora. And they’re probably right. However, “spectacle mass shootings” that get 24 hour news coverage are but a tiny fraction of the gun violence in our country. They are horrifying and scary and absolutely require attention and thoughtful and measured response. But, as jarring as they are, it’s the “everyday” gun violence in our nation that takes the most lives and that can actually be reduced by expanding background checks. In fact, a recent study shows that states that have implemented expanded background checks have seen significant reductions in key areas such as women murdered by men (46% fewer), suicide (48% fewer), police killed with handguns (48% fewer), and guns trafficked to other states (64%).
In a state like Tennessee, ranked 6th for women murdered by men (most commonly with a gun) and 12th for suicide by gun (500 Tennesseans kill themselves every year with a gun – nearly 50 every month!), these reductions are huge. With such dismal statistics, any attempt to reduce lives lost to gun violence is at the very least worth trying, especially as nothing about expanding background checks would prevent any law abiding citizen from going to the gun store of their choice and buying a gun and ammunition.
Let’s look at the last few days of never-ending gun violence in America.
We are only a couple of days into the new year and according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, a website that collects and aggregates news stories of shooting incidents, there have already been 62 deaths, 146 injuries, 2 children under 11 killed, 13 kids between the ages of 11 and 19 killed, 1 mass shooting, and 8 accidental shootings. These numbers are undercounts – it sometimes takes a day or so for the new story to cycle through to GVA and not every incident makes the news, especially accidental shootings. The number has undoubtedly gone up by the time you’re reading this.
These numbers also don’t include suicides which make up the bulk of gun violence deaths each year. Based on statistics from the CDC, around 58 people per day use a gun to kill themselves, so based on averages, we can assume that close to 180 people have put a gun to their head and pulled the trigger since the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve.
These are just a few of the hundreds of incidents that occurred between midnight New Year’s Eve through midnight January 2nd…
The shootings started soon after the New Year. For reasons that are unclear and often associated with alcohol consumption, Americans like to shoot guns into the air on New Years. Exercising the second amendment rights by displaying a staggering level of irresponsible negligence and perhaps a total lack of understanding of gravity, revelers fire bullets into the air with no concern whatsoever as to where the bullets will land. Every year, these bullets often land in the bodies of kids.
A teenager in St. Petersburg was watching fireworks outside her boyfriend’s home when a bullet struck her in the leg. Meanwhile, just to the east in nearby Orlando, a 9-year-old child was struck by a bullet as she and her family left a church service early New Year’s Day. Law enforcement have no suspect information because the round “seemed to be from the voluminous amounts of gunfire” happening at the time.” In Nevada, another teen was struck outside his home by a bullet investigators believe was fired nearby in celebration.
Here in Tennessee, celebratory gunfire isn’t even against the law. Tennessee Firearms Association executive director John Harris considers firing rounds in the air indiscriminately to be “perfectly acceptable conduct.” Harris says if someone wants to celebrate that way, the government shouldn’t stop them.
To the north in Wisconsin, a 27-year-old father shot and killed his 2-year-old little girl early in the hours of New Year’s Day and then turned the gun on himself- all for reasons that no one knows. She was about to turn three.
Driving home from a New Year’s party, a 20-year-old University of North Texas student was shot in a road rage incident. She died after being taken off life support.
Police in Kansas City, Missouri were called to a ballpark early New Year’s Day to investigate a shooting. They found a 24 year-old woman shot dead. They took a 21-year-old man into custody. Police believe the two had had an argument.
Mourners at a Tampa Bay funeral on New Year’s Day got into an altercation. The fight spilled outside and someone produced a gun. Three people were shot in the melee.
New Years afternoon, a 62-year-old man in Altus, Oklahoma was trying to chain up the family dog when his gun fell to the ground and discharged. A bullet struck him in the upper thigh, killing him.
Just a day later on Saturday the 2nd, in Enid, Oklahoma, a 59-year-old man shot and killed his ex-wife and a friend of hers. Another friend was critically wounded but survived.
Also Saturday the 2nd in Colorado Springs, a shooting at a Hooters in the Citadel Mall left 2 injured and created a panic.
Colorado Springs has been in the news a lot lately. Known as one of the most conservative cities in the nation and referred to as the “evangelical vatican” for the number of religious organizations with regional or international residing in the city, it’s the same place where a man open carrying a rifle shot and killed 3 people on Halloween and where less than a month later, a man shot up a Planned Parenthood Clinic. He killed three including a police officer and wounded nine.
Meanwhile and still on the 2nd, in Lake County, Indiana, a 49-year-old man with a history of child molestation shot and killed his ex-wife at her place of employment in Lake County, Indiana. Her murder was caught on surveillance tape. He is still at large.
And Saturday night, news outlets began reporting a group of protesters and purported militiamen led by the sons of Cliven Bundy occupied a federal building at an Oregon wildlife refuge vowing to stay there indefinitely to highlight the plight of two ranchers accused of burning federal land. The men are armed and have posted videos urging their fellow “patriots” to take up arms and join them.
These “militia men” have draped themselves with both American flags and Gadsden flags. Anyone familiar with the gun rights debate is familiar with the Gadsden flag. The “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, has been co-opted by these anti-government militia groups and is regular fixture at pro-second amendment protests and rallies. Jared and Amanda Miller also draped the Gadsden flag over the body of the two police officers they gunned down in cold blood as they shouted about revolution in 2014. The Millers had spent time at Cliven Bundy’s ranch earlier that summer. After killing the two officers, they then shot and killed an armed man who tried to stop them. Ultimately, under siege by the police, the pair shot and killed each other.
Will expanding background checks mean an end to gun violence. Of course not. Will expanding background checks mean an end to mass shooting. No. Will “bad guys” still be able to get guns. Sure, but shouldn’t we all be focused on making it as hard as possible for them to do so? Instead, based on this “if it won’t stop every gun crime, why bother?’ approach, the gun lobby has managed to thwart every single attempt to make it harder for prohibited purchasers to get guns. Then, they say the solution to the thousands of gun deaths each year is to make it easier for more people to arm themselves and carry their guns more places. It makes no sense.
After ever mass shooting, the NRA scares its members by saying that government is coming for their guns. To them, everything is part of a government scheme to disarm and confiscate. Despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans – even gun owners – support taking moderate and common sense steps to make it harder for domestic abusers, felons, other dangerous people from getting their hands on weapons, the NRA and the politicians who fear them, scream “tyranny!” And the NRA and the gun manufactures they support make millions. (Did you know that the NRA made $348 MILLION in the year after Sandy Hook?)
Candidates running for president are already vowing to repeal, “unsign”, and reject any measure the president takes – without even knowing what steps he will take. If the steps President Obama takes actually do reduce the number of gun deaths each year, would a pro-second amendment President still “unsign” Obama’s orders? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.
But, who exactly are these candidates trying to please? Not the 89% of Americans who support background checks. Not the 79% of Republicans who favor background checks for all gun sales and not the 86% of gun owning households who are in agreement that background checks do not infringe the second amendment and could keep us all safer.
The President is doing what congress and the gun lobby who finance many of them won’t – listen to the voice of the American citizens who have said ENOUGH and are desperate for a leader to finally at least try to reduce the number of mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters whose lives are taken each year by a bullet.
Gun violence is a complicated issue but doing nothing isn’t an option. Not anymore.