Why Background Checks Do
Not Stymie Mass Shooters
The vast majority do not have disqualifying records,
and "universal" requirements are easily evaded.

By Jacob Sullum. May 17, 2022

A background check did not faze the man charged with murdering 10 people at a Buffalo grocery store on Saturday. The reason for that is straightforward: The shooter passed the background check that was completed when he bought the rifle used in the attack from a federally licensed dealer in Endicott, New York, because he did not have a disqualifying criminal or psychiatric record.

That is typically true of mass shooters. According to a recent National Institute of Justice (NIJ) report on public mass shootings from 1966 through 2019, 77 percent of the perpetrators bought guns legally. In some cases, teenagers or young adults obtained guns from their families. Just 13 percent of mass shooters obtained firearms through illegal transactions. In other words, background checks would have been no obstacle in 87 percent of the cases.

The Biden administration nevertheless "renewed its calls" to "expand national background checks in the wake of the attack in Buffalo," The New York Times reports, "as it has done time and again after mass shootings." Speaking to reporters today during President Joe Biden's trip to Buffalo, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, "We're going to continue to call on Congress to expand background checks." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) likewise urged "passage of federal legislation to expand gun background checks, which she said was a 'huge priority' for Democrats."

The expansion that Jean-Pierre and Pelosi have in mind would notionally require background checks for all firearm transfers, meaning that anyone trying to sell a gun would have to complete the transaction through a federally licensed dealer. I say "notionally" because massive noncompliance with similar requirements at the state level suggests that a federal law would be widely flouted and impossible to enforce. [...] .....


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