How badly do we want to reduce gun violence in America, whether from suicides, mass shootings, domestic violence or some combination of the above?
Some people don’t want to make any effort because they believe in an absolutist view of the Second Amendment in which only the final clause is relevant – “the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” As late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia did in the Heller decision, they dismiss the opening clause, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security a free State …” as if it isn’t there.
Others repeat a mantra that we should just enforce existing laws. Yet, that’s easier said than done. For instance, according to an inquiry into public FBI records by FiveThirtyEight.com, “In an average year, almost 275,000 background checks take longer than three business days. In 2020, there were 535,786 such checks.”
This year is on pace to break that record. Three business days matter because if a check isn’t done in that time, a firearms dealer may sell the gun even if the search of his records is incomplete. After the three business days, the FBI will continue to search but, if the gun has been sold, too often an insufficient effort is made to get that gun back from someone later determined to be prohibited from buying the gun.
Case in point, in 2015, the White nationalist mass murderer at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC bought his gun after the FBI search went beyond three days. Even though his illegal drug use record was discovered the day after he was allowed to buy his gun, no effort was made to get his gun back. Tragically, he didn’t kill those nine people until about two months later.
Worse yet, the FBI may need more time to find a prohibitive record but, after 90 days, even if the search is not complete, the bureau’s regulations require it to stop work and delete the background check from its computers. Once deleted, it’s impossible to know how many people who have been sold guns would have been denied. That needs to change.
On April 8, President Joe Biden made a speech to the nation about his agenda for gun violence prevention. Unfortunately, he didn’t include fixing this, or taking another powerful step to keep guns out of prohibited hands. We could require fingerprints before the sale of a gun.
In 2013, Politifact discussed this with Daniel W. Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health when it was examining the case for Maryland to pass the law. Politifact reported that, "In the five states where fingerprint licensing is currently required for handgun purchases, gun death rates are among the lowest in the nation.
In fact, Maryland’s law has worked out so well that it just passed a new provision adding rifles and shotguns to the law, which previously just applied to handguns and long guns. Thus, we need the President to add these to his agenda now. There’s no time to wait.
Paul A. Friedman, JD, is the Founder/Executive Director of Safer Country, safercountry.org, a gun violence prevention nonprofit, and the elected Alternate Delegate for Biden for President from Virginia’s 8th congressional district to the 2020 Democratic National Convention.