The Importance of Implementing Stronger Background Check System
for Gun Sales in the U.S.
Vice President Joe BidenThe White House1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NWWashington, DC 20500
Dear Vice President Biden:
In relation to the series of gun-related violence that have mostly occurred within school premises in the recent years, here is a report that analyzes the best way to protect people from being victims in active shooting incidents. I strongly recommend the strengthening of the background check system on gun sales be the priority in the seemingly endless and tortuous debate over the issue of gun legislation.
This recommendation is based on the fact that strengthening the background check systems will ensure that only mentally and emotionally fit gun buyers will be awarded ownership. Closing “gun show loopholes,” or requiring background checks on people purchasing guns from private individuals or sellers at gun shows or the internet may prove to be a sound solution, but a larger 60% of all gun sales are made in federally licensed firearm dealers (Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 2014). Restricting unusually dangerous firearms, also called semi-automatic firearms or assault weapons, will prevent one from firing a large number of rounds without reloading. However, gun supporters argue that assault weapons do not necessarily fire multiple times as they only fire once when the trigger is pulled (NRA-ILA, 2014).
This report is influenced by the gun-related cases that have been increasing and repeatedly occurring in the past years. According to the FBI, there have been 160 shooting scenarios recorded from year 2000 to 2013, wherein 557 people were wounded while 486 were killed (U.S. News & World Report, 2014). This data is staggering and has caused major concerns among members of the society as well as the local and national government.
Amidst the discussions on how to address the said problem, gun supporters and gun control groups have been pitting against each other based on two beliefs: that regulating guns can save lives, and that gun control will leave responsible and law-abiding citizens defenseless from possible attacks. Debates and arguments have resulted to legislations but still fail to solve the issue of active shooting. FBI’s report states that from 7 people who were killed in shooting incidents in year 2000, it has exponentially increased to 90 in 2012. It was on this same year when the tragic shooting spree that killed 20 children and 6 school staff occurred in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. The perpetrator, a 20-year old young man diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome but did not take medication or therapy due to his own refusal, also killed his own mother and ultimately himself after the rampage using guns that were owned by his mother.
Gun Ownership in the U.S.
In the course of my research, I was able to gather information which shows that getting access to a gun in the United States is not as difficult as it should be, leading to guns falling into the wrong hands. Statistics show that the U.S. has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, with more than75 million of its people (Kohn, 2009, p.2) owning more than 250 million firearms (Kohn, 2009, p.2). While purchasing guns in licensed shops require background checks to ensure that prospective buyers are not prohibited purchasers, buying guns from private sellers is a lot easier. Buying guns from licensed shops require certain requirements such as age: 21 years old for handgun purchase and 18 for long guns such as rifles and shotguns (Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 2013). A background check is also conducted by FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Once approved, a person may buy a gun within minutes after confirmation, but may also be delayed for at least three days should a deeper background check is needed. Although the process may seem easy, federal background checks have proven to be effective in preventing prohibited people from owning guns. Since its implementation in 1994, more than two million people have been denied a firearm transfer or permit (Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 2014).
Purchasing guns from private sellers is also legal and is proven to be less strict than the first option. Known as “gun show loophole” or “private sale loophole,” no background check is required for this kind of purchase. An infographic by Kelli Anderson summarizes the ease of buying guns from private sellers (2013).
The graph shows how certain requirements are needed when buying a gun from a dealer, buying a car, a sudafed, or even a beer, while none is required for ammunition purchase from unlicensed sellers. On a positive note, there are some states which have constituted comprehensive legislation regarding gun control. Some, however, give more emphasis on record-keeping instead of regulation. In Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, universal background checks are conducted for prospective owners including gun sales in gun shows (theguardian, 2014).
Compared to restricting or banning possession of assault weapons, those which use a 15-round ammunition magazine, closing the “gun show loophole” or “private sale loophole” needs to be addressed first as these lead to having more guns being circulated in the society. However, the steady rise and repeated occurrence of school shooting incidents prove to be in urgent need of effective solution more than anything else. Young, innocent people should not live in fear when in school, a place where they should be allowed to cultivate their talents and abilities to become better citizens.
Despite the efficiency and effectiveness of the background state system, mental health records should be made available to the background check system to avoid people with mental health problems from accessing guns. Failure to report mental health records resulted to the Virginia Tech tragedy in April 2007, wherein a student in the same college campus shot 32 people to death while injuring 17 others before he committed suicide. Seung-Hui Cho was prohibited to purchase firearms due to his history of mental illness. Virginia law at that time only required that some, not all, mental health records be made available for background checks. As such, Cho was able to buy guns from two licensed dealers after passing two background checks (Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 2014). Other mass shootings that happened after the Viriginia Tech have called for better laws on gun ownership and mental illness. Over 3 million mental health records have been made available to NICS for background check purposes since the Virginia Tech incident until January 31, 2014 (Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 2014). However, despite the large increase of identified individuals with mental illness, some states are still reluctant to made these records available to the NICS for privacy concerns. Some states that have submitted these records did not include clinical information for similar reasons, despite assurances that NICS access to these records are tightly controlled.
More than the need to implement more strict regulations that will decrease the selling and circulation of ammunitions, especially assault weapons, in the society, ensuring that these weapons don’t fall into the hands of mentally unstable individuals will improve the chances of avoiding active shooting incidents in the communities. Although succeeding school shooting incidents don’t necessarily point out to mental illness as the reason behind the shooters’ actions, morality implies that no person in his right mind would kill innocent people indiscriminately as this is perceived to be wrong. Gun supporters emphasize that responsible gun ownership does not pose problems in the society, an idea that people with mental disorder may not be able to grasp.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding the research, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Anderson, Kellie (2013, March 20). Buying a gun in America [Web log post]. Retrieved from
Cage, Feilding (2013, January 16). Gun laws in the US: seven things you need
Every Town for Gun Safety (2014, April 11). School schootings in America since Sandy Hook.
Fox, Lauren (2014, September 25). FBI: Active shooter incidents on the rise. U.S. News & World
Report. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/data-mine/2014/09/25/fbi-
Kohn, Abigail A. (2008). Gun control laws can reduce the incidence of violent crimes.
Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center, 1-5. Retrieved from
Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. regulating guns in America: A comprehensive analysis
of gun laws nationwide (2014 edition). Retrieved from
NRA-ILA Institute for Legislative Action (2014, June 17). Ten reasons why states should reject
“assault weapon” and “large” magazine bans. Author. Retrieved from