Washington’s fight and failure to strengthen background checks

Background Checks on Guns
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) walks away from the podium after he and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) introduced their background check legislation. Credit: Getty Images

In the wake of the Sept. 16 gun massacre at the Washington D.C. Navy Yard, President Barack Obama and some members of Congress are once again banging the war drums about the necessity of stricter gun control laws.

Based on how the massive federal legislative push went after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, it’s unclear that any meaningful legislation will pass the gridlocked Congress.

Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) led the effort for common sense gun reform after the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., by introducing a bill that would have required background checks on most private sales of guns and mandated mental health checks as part of typical background checks. On April 17, that bill with its modest proposals died on the U.S. Senate floor after only garnering 54 votes, six fewer than the 60-vote threshold to avoid a filibuster. 

It was a vote that baffled some, given the country’s high rate of gun violence. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11,078 homicides, 19,392 suicides and 73,505 non-fatal gun injuries occurred in 2010. Those numbers don’t include incidents where guns were used in robberies or other violent crimes.

In the face of these numbers, solutions like closing loopholes in background checks were supported by 90 percent of Americans, according to recent poll taken by CBS and The New York Times. The measure also sought to extend existing safeguards when buying a gun from a licensed dealer to all gun sales — including intrastate online sales.

The political opposition to background checks, led by the National Rifle Association, maintains that “no background check system will ever be truly ‘universal’ because criminals will not submit themselves to the system,” according to the NRA Institute of Legislative Action. Therefore, the NRA does not support these proposals and is not working to implement this type of legislation.

It’s a claim that opponents say makes as much sense as suggesting that drinking age limits should be abolished because some teenagers are still managing to consume alcohol.


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