Commentary on Gun licensing

On Valentine’s day, a high school in Florida and indeed all America were treated to a horrific massacre carried out by a man what the Florida police, wielded a weapon of war. After the shooting, people from all political affiliation- from President Trump to the Senate to the advocacy groups called for strong measures and background measures to be made to people seeking to buy firearms.  According to the polls conducted by the Quinnipiac University after the shooting, 96% of Americans supported the universal background checks.  While there is nothing wrong with performing strict background checks, the system is still inadequate.  This commentary looks into the issue of gun licensing, the challenges and the possible solutions to this menace.

Americans have hope that comes to the newly elected Democratic majority in the House will make efforts to ensure that guns are handled by the right people and not the ones with the potential to conduct mass killings. However, the signals that appear in the early stages of this issue do not give a lot of optimism.  After the mid-term elections were done, Rep Nancy Pelosi said that the House of Democrats will make it a priority to have bipartisan legislation to conduct the checks and firearms sale with more common sense.  She was referring to the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act legislation which would ensure that the background check system would be expanded. This legislation on the universal background check is not comprehensive, but it is supposed to cover the private sales that perform commercial advertisements such as gun shows, those that are advertised online and classified ads.  To make it worse, the bill involves the National Rifle Association-drafted language that effectively bars the registration of privately held firearms.

In the incident mentioned above, Broward County Sherriff Office says that the perpetrator of the mass killings Nikolas Cruz had passed a background check when he went to buy a firearm for the gun store.  Again, this shows a gaping loophole for the system because it does not capture the real behaviour of all those who want to purchase firearms. It means that there might be many guns in the hands of many people with unstable minds, who would not mind using them with least provocation. Given the position of Pelosi and her caucus, it feels that she has a weak lead looking at the significant number of the Democrats who championed for gun control despite the success of these candidates.  One of the fundamental flaws that the bill suffers is that the system is riddled with loopholes.

Since its institution in 1998, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has not been so successful in its bid to block gun sales to the individuals who have a questionable history that involves violence.  According to a study carried out by the FBI, 63 cases involving mass shootings that happened between 2000 and 2013, only 2% of the cases involved legally purchased guns and 6% of the weapons were stolen.  By comparing them, 40% of the guns were lawfully bought- which means that the buyer had passed the check- and the people who bought them were planning to use them to attack.  Also, the FBI discovered that the perpetrators had shown some behaviors that the others had noticed as disturbing.  Such actions included mental instability, acting on impulse, uncontrollable anger at a small mistake, physical violence and aggression, constant talk involving guns violence and a great fascination with firearms.

The NRA would want to continue with its instant check system which was designed and failed more than 20 years ago. The Brady Bill which was passed after an attempt on President Reagan’s life wanted that the purchases on the guns be subject to a waiting period for the law enforcers to investigate the criminal behavior of the buyer. Such investigations did not use the electronic data of the buyers because few states had such data at that time.  During the period of 1994 to 1998, the law enforcers conducted the research in to the history of the buyers under the interim provision of the Brady Law.  The enforcers talked to the families, medical personnel, courts and other available police records.  This changed when the NRA allies who were in Congress lobbied for a system that performed an instant check.  As for the NICS, the whole process does not prioritise public safety, but it prioritises speed.  If a buyer approaches a dealer for a firearm, the dealer contacts the FBI call centre located in Clarksburg, West Virginia and gives the details of the buyer such as name, race and so on.  The FBI consults three databases looking for the details of the buyer concerning the past criminal offences. The agency will give three responses; approve, deny or delay.  All these happen in less than five minutes, and the NICS checks are finished.

Federal laws do not ban people with a history of violent crimes, those with misdemeanors such as assault or battery, sexual offenders or even domestic abusers from buying firearms.  Also, people with unstable mental health or depression are allowed to buy guns.  NICS allows those with alcohol-related sickness or substances abusers to purchase weapons. Selling arms to such people benefits only the dealers and not the public. The gun lobby contribution to the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act which asks a ban on the registration of firearms tells it all. The NRA knows that to buy a gun and also to register to keep on requires a license.  Owing a gun would also require training and testing and even background check, which would be the most effective way to ensure that the firearms are not placed in the wrong hands. This is seen in other countries where such strict requirements are put in place and evidently results in a low rate of gun deaths and homicide cases than in the US.

According to a recent study that was published by the UC Davis and John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research showed that the instant check did not the suicide and homicide cases significantly as compared to the permit-to-purchase laws in the states of Missouri and Connecticut because the licensing laws require those who want to buy guns to deal with the law enforcers in the community they come from. It is high time the Democrats stopped being manipulated in to supporting the NRA process of performing electronic screen check for the buyers of the firearms which has proved to be a total failure, in the name of bipartisanship. Also, Pelosi could do well to keep the fire of pro-gun control alive and push with it to the 2020 elections.  Such an onslaught cannot be accomplished if the legislation is half-baked and weak.  The House Democrats must ensure that Pelosi goes through with the pro-gun control deal as an issue that needs to win big; otherwise, they need to have her replaced if she backtracks. As it is, the Republicans in the Senate and the White House are not ready to pass or support any gun legislation that the Democrats would give, no matter how good it would be for the country.  Therefore, the Democrats should look at the issue in another light and maybe come up with a policy that could achieve the crucial goal of removing guns from the hands of violent individuals in America.

In conclusion, recent attacks of mass shootings by people believed to have accessed the guns legally showed how flawed the universal screening process is and also how it has continually failed the people of America.  To the NRA, it is business as usual because the gun industry has to thrive.  What is evident is that computerised screening fails to capture a lot of disturbing behaviors that most buyers exhibit in their day to day lives.  More measures need to be put into place to reduce incidents of mass killings by placing firearms in the wrong hands.  What is evident is that the pro-gun control legislation bill does not have political good-will of the government of the day.  Therefore, the Democrats should look for ways to craft a bill that will remove weapons of war from the hands of insane people.

References accessed on 18/3/2019

Carlson, J. (2017). The hidden arm of the law: examining administrative justice in gun carry licensing. Law & Society Review, 51(2), 346-378.

Kleck, G. (2019). Gun Control. The Handbook of Social Control, 153.