THE CASE FOR BACKGROUND CHECKS

This year, Rep. Mike Stewart and Sen. Sara Kyle are sponsoring legislation that would require all gun purchases to undergo a background check.  Over 90% of Americans  and a large majority of Tennesseans support expanding background checks. The bill will be up for a vote in both the House Civil Justice Subcommittee and the Senate Judiciary on April 5.

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US Police Chiefs agree, calling the expansion of background checks for firearm purchases a “no brainer.”

In the landmark 2008 Heller decision which determined that the second amendment right to bear arms applied not just to militias, but also to individuals, Justice Antonin Scalia writing for majority opined: “Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons or the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.” (Pp. 54–56.)

Additionally, research shows that states with expanded background checks see reductions in gun violence in a number of key categories:48% Fewer suicides
46% Fewer women murdered by intimate partners
52% Fewer mass shootings
17% Fewer aggravated assaults with a gun
48% Fewer law enforcement officers killed with a gun
64% Fewer guns trafficked to other states

600 Tennesseans kill themselves with a gun EACH year, according to the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network. The most recent Violence Policy Center report “When Men Murder Women” ranks Tennessee 9th in the nation for women killed by men. Reductions of 46-48% in these categories would be significant.

Investigative journalists and prosecutors have both reported on cases where prohibited purchasers were able to buy guns without background checks at gun shows, noting that it’s easier and carries less risk of arrest.  From a News Channel 5 Investigates report:

“Where did you get the weapons that you used?” NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.

Gutierrez responded,”Most of the weapons that were used were coming from the gun show.”

Gutierrez said at age 15, he and other gang members went to local gun shows with cash and were easily able to buy four to six guns each visit.

“Anybody will sell you a gun,” Gutierrez said. “I mean no matter what, if you want a gun and you show them the money, and tell them you want to buy it, he’s going to definitely sell it to you.”

Over the years, there has been bipartisan support for the expansion of background checks to private gun sales. Even Wayne LaPierre of the NRA supported eliminating the gun show loophole in the wake of Columbine. Ronald Reagan wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in support of the Brady Background Check bill and even advocated for mandatory waiting periods. Current House speaker Paul Ryan also supported background checks at gun shows as did former presidential candidate Senator John McCain.

Gun background checks were first mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993. The law was named after Jim Brady, the press secretary to President Reagan who was left paralyzed by John Hinckley’s attempted assassination of Reagan in 1981. Both President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan championed the efforts of Jim and Sarah Brady and the Brady Campaign.

Requiring background checks should be common sense. It’s what an overwhelming majority of Americans want.  It’s what an overwhelming majority of Tennesseans want. As Rep. Stewart demonstrated this morning, current state law makes it as easy to purchase lemonade and cookies as it is to buy a firearm.

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We can do better.

Background checks won’t prevent all shootings, but they will prevent some.  And, when you’re talking about the lives of women, kids, police officers, and other Tennesseans, any steps that we can take to prevent shootings are worth taking.

Will expanding background checks mean no criminals will ever get their hands on a gun?  Of course not, but it will prevent some.  In fact, according to TBI data, each year, TBI background checks prevent thousands of prohibited purchasers from buying weapons.  Yes, bad guys will still be able to buy guns, but you have to ask – why do we make it easy for them to do so?

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