One of the few gun control measures that is already in place--background checks--is fatally flawed. Charlie Savage has an unsettling article on how gaping holes in the FBI's database of criminal and mental health records allow thousands of people to buy firearms each year who should be barred from doing so.
It boggles the mind that while
* the NSA collects and sifts through billions of email messages and phone calls of U.S. citizens to look for patterns, and
* DHS has spent a few hundred million on "fusion centers" to promote state-federal information sharing
the gun background check system is broken because the FBI database is woefully incomplete--missing information on several categories of prohibited gun buyers, including records of people involuntarily committed or otherwise ruled mentally ill, those who have tested positive for illegal drugs, or have a history of domestic violence.
Millions of names of people prohibited from buying guns are missing from the FBI background-check database, largely because states have not turned over relevant records on people deemed too dangerous to own a firearm.
And why is that? Because the gun background check system is purely voluntary.
And why is that? Because in 1997, the Supreme Court ruled in Printz v. United States that the federal government can't force states to participate in a federal background check system due to federalism concerns. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act had required local law enforcement officials to conduct background checks on people seeking to buy guns. Under these provisions of the law, approximately 6,600 applications a month were rejected because the would‐be purchasers fell into one of several proscribed categories, such as felons and drug users.
The database flaw is directly linked to the biggest gun massacre at a school so far: Virginia Tech.
In that case, a Virginia state judge had declared the gunman [Seung-Hui Cho] mentally ill, but the record of that proceeding was not submitted to the F.B.I. He was able to pass a background check and buy the weapons he used to kill 32 people and wound 17 others.Virginia has increased its reporting to the FBI, but nearly half the states in the country have not.
Savage's article notes FBI data shows that
[s]ince 2005, 22,162 firearms — including nearly 3,000 this year — have been bought after the waiting period by people later determined to have been disqualified because of their criminal and mental histories.I think we can all agree that violent felons, fugitives and those adjudicated to be mentally ill should not be able to buy guns. While Congress cannot legislate that states have to comply with a federal background-check law, each state can certainly enact its own law that mandates reporting to the F.B.I.’s National Instant Criminal Background Check system,