State’s gun background checks could serve as national model


What does it take to buy a gun in California? The Golden State, as usual, is not the norm.

Buying a gun here is harder than in any other state: Once you show a valid driver’s license or state I.D., you must buy a firearm safety device, agree to a background check that runs your name not only through a national FBI criminal database but 20 additional sources such as the DMV and mental health records, and then wait for 10 days to find out if you passed the background check.

Currently, all states require a National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) for gun stores sales, but 29 states do not apply the same requirement to gun shows, according to Fox News.  California and Rhode Island are the only two states who expand such checks to all gun show and private gun sales.

Since the mass shooting in Newton, Conn. last December, gun-control advocates have renewed their clamor for universal background checks.

Now, more than ever, policy-makers might look at California’s rigorous system — and the system’s results — to get an idea of how the country should move forward on gun control legislation.

However, the results go both ways. Only 1 percent of California’s background checks lead to a denial of purchase, which isn’t too heartening for those who laud a universal system as the best prevention method for gun violence, according to Bay Area News Group.

But the national denial rate is lower than California’s, at 0.6 percent, which suggests California is doing something right.

And last year, California’s rates of gun-related killings, robberies and assaults were all higher than the national rates, according to Bay Area News Group. But California had lower rates of armed robberies and armed assaults in 2011 than Arizona or Nevada, which conduct less rigorous background checks for gun store sales and zero checks for guns shows or private purchases.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, chairman of the House Democrats’ gun violence task force, believes that any level of prevention is significant. He told Bay Area News Group: 

“You have to assume that if you stop one person who would otherwise take that gun and kill people, it’s been a success.”

However, others see universal background checks as an infringement on individual rights.

National Rifle Association executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre, told gun owners as much during a speech in Reno last week:

“[President Barack Obama] wants to put every private, personal firearms transaction right under the thumb of the federal government, and he wants to keep all those names in a massive federal registry…[he] wants you to believe that putting the federal government right in the middle of every firearms transaction will somehow make us all safer.”

No matter where one falls on the issue, the connection between background checks and gun violence prevention is unclear. But as Congress debates gun-control measures, California’s system is worth analyzing.

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