Background Reality Check

I suggest letting the adults start over

By Dave Skinner

Recent polls show public support for “improved,” or “comprehensive,” or “universal” firearms background checks hovering between 83 and 90 percent. Should Congress heed these poll results? Sure, if respondents knew what the heck they’re blabbing about to that stranger on the phone. However, I’d bet my pet rifle most of those polled know little to nothing about what firearms background checks do, or don’t.

Minus America’s 6.1 million convicted felons, we have 189 million upstanding adult citizens, right? But in 2018, our National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) handled 26.1 million background checks – which means the highest possible number of citizens, with each person buying only one gun last year, is 26 million. In short, a minimum of 87 percent of Americans didn’t go through a background check last year, and probably never have – a number strikingly similar to the numbers showing “support.”

What about our background check system? Does it need “improvement?” Oh, heck yeah, but I know better than to agree to a loaded question from an idiot pollster.

In September 2018, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) cranked out a report on gun background checks, partly titled: “Few Individuals Denied Firearms Purchases Are Prosecuted” et cetera. Trust me, 87 percent of Americans polled didn’t read it. I did.

Requested by U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano, (D-NY), who just happens to be one of the 15 of 19 New York Congresscritters rated “F” by the National Rifle Association, GAO’s report creditably plays straight with tons of relevant state and federal data concerning 2017’s 25.6 million background checks, and more important, 181,000 denied transfers.

GAO notes the general makeup of standard (instant) denials for the six years 2011-2017 by the “DENI” branch of ATF: Of 36,000 denials investigated, 32 percent were convicted felons, 23 percent misdemeanor domestic violence, and 19 percent unlawful controlled substance.

Under existing law, the federal penalty alone for a “lie and try,” falsifying the Form 4473 that must be filled out for every one of those 25 million-plus-annually commercial gun transfers and background checks, and then kept on file for decades, is a federal felony worth up to 10 years in the can, plus $250,000. Scary, right?

But you’d be wrong if you think the crooks and crazies trying to illegally buy guns are going to jail or someplace “safe.” That’s not happening.

For example, of all 2017 NICS checks, 8.63 million were conducted by federal staff on sales in the 29 states (including Montana) that don’t conduct checks themselves. How many were denied? About 113,000, but then, things get weird. The Feds “triage standard denials” for criteria such as “a recent violent felony or domestic violence conviction,” focusing on “the greatest threats to public safety.”

As the apparent result of this “triage,” only 13,000 or so federal denials saw further investigation. Even more bizarre, only 50 (that’s right!) were prosecuted. Convictions? Try TWELVE, with no data on final punishment, felony or otherwise. Eight million checks to get 12? Brilliant!

What about the 16.5 million checks processed by state agencies using federal and state background databases for either handguns only (eight), or all firearms (13 states)?

Of the latter 13, 10 deny, but don’t routinely investigate. The remaining three investigate denials (Pennsylvania and Oregon, all; Virginia, some) and where appropriate, prosecute. In 2017, Pennsylvania reported 5,500 denials investigated, 1,907 prosecuted, with 472 convictions, “about 10 percent […]” – way better than the Fed’s puny 0.09 percent.

Even so, “most prosecutions are pled down to misdemeanors, eliminating the need for a trial,” or the cost of jail at $60,000 a year. Virginia reserves slammer time for “denied individuals with violent felony convictions,” with “90 percent” of convictions “pled down to misdemeanors [entailing] probation or community service.”

Sorry, but when 25 million honest Americans undergo background checks under the Brady Law, and that system “catches” 181,000 criminals with ink on paper, we have a right to expect criminals to stay caught and be punished, but that’s not happening and honestly never has.

How can something so dysfunctional ever be, as the polls ask, “improved,” made more “comprehensive,” or best of all, made “universal?”

I suggest letting the adults start over.

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