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Loophole kills seven
The shooter who went on a deadly rampage with an AR-15 in Texas last weekend could not have purchased his gun through a dealer. That would have required a background check, which he failed "in 2014 because, law enforcement officials told NBC News, he had a disqualifying mental health issue."
Instead, the shooter exploited an obvious loophole in the background check system. He purchased his AR-15 in a "private sale," an arrangement that does not require a background check.
Republican politicians and gun lobbyists have insisted for years that mass shooters and other criminals would not exploit the gaps in the background check system to acquire weapons. As a result, they argued, closing the background check loophole was unnecessary and would only burden "law-abiding citizens."
They were wrong.
And now seven people are dead, and 25 more were wounded, including a 17-month-old baby.
What Mitch McConnell said about background checks
In 2013, Mitch McConnell's campaign manager sent an email to supporters claiming universal background checks were part of "an all-out-assault" on "your rights" and "your freedom." A few excerpts:
You and I are literally surrounded.
The gun-grabbers in the Senate are about to launch an all-out-assault on the Second Amendment....My friend, our freedom is under direct assault...The gun-grabbers are in full battle mode. And they are serious...
There are almost too many schemes to list. But President Obama’s worst center around… A thinly-veiled national gun registration scheme hidden under the guise of “background checks” to ensure federal government minders gain every bureaucratic tool they need for full-scale confiscation.
In 2013, shortly after the gun massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, McConnell and 44 Senate Republicans, voted to filibuster a bipartisan bill that would have expanded background checks to all gun sales. The proposal was gaining momentum until McConnell aligned himself with Tea Party Republicans who vowed to block the legislation.
In a speech on the Senate floor, McConnell called the bill an "overreach," which would "punish or harass law-abiding citizens in the exercise of their Second Amendment rights." He warned that, under the legislation, "an uncle giving his nephew a hunting rifle for Christmas" would be a federal crime.
After the bill was defeated, he gloated by posting this meme to Facebook:
Earlier this year, the House passed a universal background check bill. McConnell refused to bring it up for a vote.
Had McConnell not led the opposition to universal background checks, last weekend's mass shooting may not have happened.
What Trump said about background checks
After the gun massacres in El Paso and Dayton earlier in August, Trump briefly expressed a willingness to consider universal background checks. But after a phone call with NRA president Wayne LaPierre, Trump quickly reversed course. Just ten days before the latest mass shooting in Odessa, Trump said the current background check system was "very, very strong":
We have very, very strong background checks right now... I've said it a hundred times - it's not the gun that pulls the trigger; it's the person that pulls the trigger. These are sick people, and it is also that kind of a problem...
A lot of the people that put me where I am are strong believers in the Second Amendment, and I am also. And we have to be very careful about that. You know, they call it the slippery slope, and all of a sudden, everything gets taken away. We're not going to let that happen.
Trump's current rhetoric against universal background checks is consistent with his position as a candidate. In a position paper released by his campaign, Trump said he opposed universal background checks and claimed criminals get their guns through theft or from friends. He said the focus should be improving the records within the existing background check system, which is a frequent NRA talking point.
There has been a national background check system in place since 1998. Every time a person buys a gun from a federally licensed gun dealer – which is the overwhelming majority of all gun purchases – they go through a federal background check. Study after study has shown that very few criminals are stupid enough to try and pass a background check – they get their guns from friends/family members or by stealing them... What we need to do is fix the system we have and make it work as intended. What we don’t need to do is expand a broken system.
Trump was wrong. Had Trump supported a universal background check system, last weekend's mass shooting may not have happened.
What the NRA said about background checks
The NRA has vigorously opposed closing the background check loophole and specifically argued that mass shooters could pass background checks. "Most mass shooters, including those inspired by Islamic terrorist groups, pass background checks to acquire firearms," according to an NRA factsheet posted in January 2009.
The NRA goes on to approvingly quote a 2012 piece from criminologist James Allen Fox. "Most mass murderers do not have criminal records or a history of psychiatric hospitalization. They would not be disqualified from purchasing their weapons legally," Fox said. (Fox appears to have changed his mind. In a column for USA Today last month, Fox calls for "tighter gun control laws...such as universal background checks.)
Further, according to the NRA, there was no reason to close the background check loophole because criminals don't buy their guns. Instead, "persons imprisoned for firearm crimes get their firearms mostly through theft, the black market, or family members or friends."
The NRA noted that "[n]one of the mass shootings that former President Barack Obama named in a White House speech on gun control in January 2016, would have been prevented by requiring background checks on private sales of firearms."
Chris Cox, who recently stepped down as the NRA's top lobbyist, wrote in June:
If a person lacks a significant history of criminal conduct or state-mandated mental health treatment, a background check can’t simply manufacture a reason to deny them. To state the obvious, a background check looks toward the past, not toward a person’s future intentions. It cannot stop someone who remains under the radar while planning to end his life with a mass casualty event.
And there is the fundamental flaw in the NRA's argument. It doesn't matter if universal background checks can stop all mass shootings or if most criminals don't by their guns. These probabilities are of little comfort to the families of the victims of the gun massacre in Texas last weekend.
Had the NRA not blocked legislative action, last weekend's mass shooting may not have happened.
Extraordinary public support
Outside of the NRA headquarters and the Republican caucus in Congress, it's hard to find anyone who opposes universal background checks. It's not a partisan issue. A Quinnipiac poll in May found 94% American voters, and 90% of American gun owners, support universal background checks.
If politicians would have listened to the people they represent, there are seven people from Texas who might still be alive today.
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