Letter, Daily Local News, 9/12/15, from Mayor Carolyn Comitta
Many thanks to Andy Hachadorian for his recent thought-provoking article titled, “What’s the Answer to Gun Violence?” Andy ended his article with a question to readers: “What are we going to do? I’m all ears.” I am a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, part of Everytown for Gun Safety. We’re united in the conviction that support for the Second Amendment goes hand-in-hand with keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, domestic abusers and people with severe mental illness. I am happy to share a simple answer to Andy’s question: close the loopholes in our background check system.
My first reaction to Andy’s column was that he sets an impossible bar: “We are kidding ourselves if we think we can prevent all gun violence by those mentally unstable or mentally ill.” I don’t know anyone who thinks we can prevent all gun violence.
Do home security systems prevent all burglaries? Of course not, and no one claims they do or expects them to. Home security systems reduce burglaries. By requiring background checks for every gun sale, we make obtaining a gun harder for people who are prohibited from buying guns because of mental illness, and thereby reduce gun violence. Reducing gun violence is also the goal of those of us, including me, who agree that increased access to mental health treatment is part of the solution. Other developed countries have similar rates of mental illness, but they don’t have anywhere near the level of gun violence.
Federal law requires background checks for gun sales at licensed firearm dealers, but not for private, unlicensed sales, many of which now occur online. Pennsylvania goes a step further by requiring background checks for private handgun sales, but leaves the loophole open for unlicensed sales of rifles, shotguns and military style assault rifles.
In states like Pennsylvania that require background checks on all handgun sales, 46% fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners, 48% fewer law enforcement officers are killed with handguns and there is 48% less illegal gun trafficking. After Missouri repealed background checks on private gun sales, gun homicides went up 25%, and gun trafficking rose too.
I believe that a federal law requiring background checks for every gun sale no matter what type of gun is a common sense step to reducing gun violence in America. Alternatively, we could follow the National Rifle Association’s lead and prevent doctors from talking with their patients about safe gun storage or asking them about gun ownership. The NRA has backed doctor gag orders in several states, though it has only succeeded in Florida.
What’s incredible is how easy it is for people who aren’t allowed to have guns to circumvent the background check system and the law. For instance, the website armslist.com allows anyone with an internet connection to filter out licensed gun dealers and shop among private, unlicensed sellers who aren’t required to conduct background checks.
So if you want to prevent all gun violence, you are going to be very frustrated. But if you’re a realist, as Andy is, then you want to reduce gun violence while respecting the rights of law abiding gun owners. And if that’s your goal, there’s a very simple solution: close the loopholes around background checks.
Thanks for listening.
For more information: Everytown for Gun Safety (which includes the former Mayors Against Illegal Guns)