Public Comment

Can Gun Control Work?

Harry Brill
Friday August 09, 2019 - 02:57:00 PM

That the overwhelming majority of the public supports background checks as a condition for obtaining a gun is not surprising. But perhaps you did not know that in contrast to the perspective of the National Rifle Association (NRA) most gun owners agree that serious background checks are necessary. According to a national public policy polling survey, over 80 percent of gun owners support background checks, and two thirds are likely to vote for political candidates who have a similar view. 

The survey results are important because we can count on a substantial number of gun owners, like most Americans, to advocate more effective laws to protect the public. Of course the 5 million members of the NRA also believe that the second amendment gives them a constitutional right to own guns. But many of us disagree because there is nothing in that amendment that justifies individuals owning guns. Nevertheless, there is agreement that background checks are important. 

The NRA 's main clients are not its five million members. NRA's commitment is mainly to represent the interests of the armament industry. The close relationship between the NRA and businesses that manufacture armaments is not only ideological. For obvious reasons they also donate substantial amount of money to the NRA. The Remington Arms corporation, which makes weapons both for military and civilian purposes, donated recently over a million dollars. Just as the armament industry can count on the NRA, so can the NRA count of the armament industry. 

The main legislation to protect against the misuse of guns, was enacted in1993. Known as the Brady Handgun Prevention Act it imposed a five day waiting period before a licensed dealer could sell and deliver a hand gun to an individual. Although The NRA could not defeat the bill, it won a major concession, which eliminated the waiting period, and replaced it with a computerized instant checking system. 

In many European countries, it may takes months before a gun can be purchased. In New Zealand for example, the government can interview candidates and the background check is more thorough. Because the standards for licensing guns are much higher in Germany, gun homicides in the United states are 17 times the German rate. 

In contrast to many other countries, there is only about a one hour waiting period to obtaining a gun in the United States. The problem is that the shorter the wait, the less likely the screening process will screen out candidates who should not have access to weapons. 

Despite the Brady law gun related deaths have been increasing. But the problem does not just reflect the law's weakness. Another major shortcoming is that guns can be legally purchased from private sources, which do not require background checks. According to a study by Harvard University, almost one-fourth of gun purchases bypass the Brady law. Instead, guns can be obtained in the private market, where sellers are not licensed. This access, referred to as the gun show loophole, provides private sources for those who want or need to avoid the legal requirements of the Brady law.  

This includes not only gun shows, but individuals who want to sell their guns. Any person can sell a firearm to an unlicensed resident of the same state. No background checks are required and these sales do not have to be recorded. So those who would not qualify under the Brady law can rely on obtaining a gun from the private sector. 

So the real truth about gun control in the United States is that there really is no control One way or another, a gun can be purchased without any background checks and without even the sale being recorded. 

In my view the task ahead is not only passing better laws and finding ways to assure they are enforced. We also need to build a society that tilts more toward encouraging mutual respect rather than preaching hate, as President Trump does. Admittedly, this is a formidable task.