Whenever a newsworthy case of gun violence occurs, it is common to hear calls for an expansion of background checks for guy buyers or traders. This strategy seems logical on its face, and indeed it polls well for the politicians and pundits who suggest it, but an examination of the facts reveals that it is unlikely to help, for several reasons.
Existing background checks already cover practically everyone who legally buys a gun. The mass shooters who appear on the news have either managed to pass a background check, or managed to obtain their firearm some other way—either by purchasing it illegally, or by using one that belonged to somebody else. A check will not reveal if a seemingly law-abiding individual has been radicalized over the internet, as many in these cases have, or will suddenly snap for other reasons; neither will it prevent people from taking a firearm from a friend or relative who managed to pass a check.
Won’t Stop Illegal Ownership
Most violent crime is done by people who obtain firearms illegally; this is especially true of “normal” gun violence, such as that done between gangs or drug dealers. People with felony convictions primarily attain guns from the black-market, and black-market dealers are obviously less willing to examine their customers’ records. If the government wants to cut down on these sorts of crimes, there are various avenues that they could pursue, but expansive laws on background checks will not help.
Proponents of universal background checks hope that they can also monitor gun transfers, but here the infrastructure required is so lacking as to render this impossible. Many states lack a centralized registry to keep track of guns, as does the federal government, which means that it is effectively impossible to make sure that any new laws would be followed. Many retailers end up going through private background check services to do their due diligence on their buyers. When Oregon tried to expand checks back in 2015, many law enforcement officers said that they were not even going to bother trying to follow the new rules, simply because it would have been too difficult with their limited resources. Combined with the fees and waiting periods for more checks, many gun enthusiasts will prefer to forego the process, turning law-abiding citizens into criminals while not reducing the real problem.
In conclusion, existing checks already fulfill the function that people want new checks to perform, while new checks will only exacerbate problems without improving them.