The Viability and Impact of Expanded Background Checks

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.

One of the tentpoles of President Obama’s recently announced executive action on gun control is closing the so-called “gun show loophole” by potentially forcing anyone selling firearms of any quantity to register as a gun dealer and to perform background checks on purchasers.

This story from npr.org profiles Jesse Mackey, a Xenia, Ohio resident who sells firearms and accessories from his home. The licensed firearms dealers teaches classes, including concealed-carry classes, from his home as well. He takes students to a range at his cousin's house for live-fire training. Mackey has been doing it for a decade, and though he is a lifetime NRA member, he has a stance on Obama's new rules that you might not expect: He doesn't have a problem with expanded background checks.

"I understand that he's trying to make everything safer for everybody," Mackey said in the story.

For him, the new rules likely won't be a problem. But for people who perhaps only have a small collection they want to sell or even a large gun collection that they inherited and want to part with, they won't be able to without registering as a dealer or going through some kind of intermediary. The details haven't yet been made clear.

But other people, like a fellow lifetime NRA member Erik Blaine, whom NPR also interviewed, are very worried about the particulars of the executive action.

"The executive actions have muddied the waters as far as the legal interpretation of what is or is not a firearms dealer," Blaine told NPR.

Other say that the whole idea of expanding background checks is somewhat absurd considering the current background check system, which took $650 million to create and costs $40 million a year to run, doesn’t really work so well.

According to this story from americas1stfreedom.org, 38 states submit less than 80 percent of their felony convictions to the NICS background check system. That translates to 7 million convicted criminals being invisible to a NICS check.

On top of that, the story says background checks do nothing to stop criminals or convicted felons from trying to obtain a firearms, and that they are rarely prosecuted for the crime of doing so, meaning they can just keep trying.

The NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre pointed out that in 2010, 80,000 people who are barred by federal law for even attempting to buy a gun did just that. Only 44 were prosecuted for the crime.

When it comes to mental illness, another area Obama plans to funnel money to, studies have shown that countless individuals who have been adjudicated mentally incompetent are not in the NICS system, because states refuse to put those private medical records into the background check system. The Washington Post reports that the U.S. Department of Justice has given out at least $56 million in grants to states to encourage them to improve their mental health reporting.

The story says Massachusetts, which received more than $2 million of that grant money from the Justice Department, submitted just one record to the NICS system.

And still, zooming out farther, many contend that no amount or degree of background checks would have prevented the rare but highly publicized mass shootings experienced in the U.S., as almost all of the perpetrators passed background checks because they didn't have a record, or they obtained their firearms through theft, straw purchases, or via the black market, just like most criminals.