Editor’s Note: Where there is a will, there is a way. If a criminal wants to do harm, they will get the job done, no matter the weapon of choice. Check out why expanding background checks won’t do the job to decrease gun violence.
Gun control advocates have filed an initiative to require background checks for private-party firearm sales in Nevada. If the groups behind the drive collect enough valid signatures to gain a vote on their petition, they’ll still have to overcome the strongest argument against expanded background checks: the fact that determined lawbreakers who want a gun will not respect the laws written to disarm them.
Case in point: This month’s horrific killing spree by Jerad and Amanda Miller, who executed Las Vegas police officers Igor Soldo and Alyn Beck, then killed concealed weapon permit holder Joseph Wilcox after he tried to intervene. Jerad Miller was a felon prohibited from ever possessing a gun. Because his wife lived with him, she could not lawfully own a gun he had access to. Yet they armed themselves to the teeth. She bought all their guns legally in Indiana, Las Vegas police said.
And even today’s background check requirements haven’t stopped some of the country’s worst mass shootings.
The 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., was carried out by Adam Lanza, who used weapons lawfully purchased by his mother in a state with some of the strictest gun laws in America. James Holmes passed background checks to acquire the firearms he used in the 2011 Aurora, Colo., movie theater mass shooting. Jared Loughner, who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six people, in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011, also passed a background check. Even Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007, passed a background check and bought a handgun despite having been ruled mentally ill by a judge.
This is not to say that background checks are bad policy. These examples merely highlight that expanded background checks will not stop the kinds of crimes that increasingly leave Americans emotionally devastated and angry. The checks have gaps because of poor mental health systems and poor reporting of disqualifying events. It’s up to states to enact policies that fill those gaps for background checks to be effective.