Close the Private Gun Sale Loophole. Finally.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The U.S. has long had two distinct applications of federal gun law. One applies to people who shop at federally licensed gun dealers: They must pass a background check before purchasing a firearm. The other is for those who arrange a private sale from an unlicensed seller, via the internet or at a gun show: They are under no obligation to prove they are legally qualified to make their purchase. A 2015 survey found that more than one-fifth of Americans who obtained a gun in the two years prior to the study did so without a background check.
This week, the House of Representatives will finally address the private-sale loophole by voting on the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which would require background checks on virtually all firearm transactions.
Criminals know how easy it is to buy guns at gun shows and on websites and forums devoted to firearms. At Armslist.com, 1.2 million ads for firearms were posted by unlicensed sellers in states that did not legally require a background check, according to a study by Everytown for Gun Safety, a pro-regulation group supported by Bloomberg LP founder Michael Bloomberg. More than 10 percent of those seeking to buy guns on Armslist.com would have been prohibited from buying a gun from a federally licensed dealer.
Under the proposed background-check bill, gun transfers without background checks would still be allowed for loans or gifts between family members. For most sales by unlicensed sellers, however, the seller would be required to use a federally licensed dealer to conduct the required background check.
Most background checks take only minutes to complete. In some cases, background checks can take longer, delaying a sale. But guns are potentially dangerous products: They kill or injure tens of thousands of people each year, at a cost of billions of dollars and immeasurable social harm. And while the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Americans have a right to private ownership of firearms, nothing in the Constitution suggests a right to unfettered consumer convenience at the cost of public safety. A criminal should not be able to get hold of a gun simply by shopping online.
Twenty states and the District of Columbia require background checks for unlicensed gun sales. Similar rules should apply nationwide. Congress should vote to close the loophole.
Editorials are written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.
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