Editorial: Closing the loophole on background checks on gun purchases shouldn’t be this hard

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

You don’t have to hate guns to like the idea of background checks on people looking to purchase firearms. With the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, that is a sentiment worth remembering.

National polls routinely find more than 90% of Americans support background checks for gun purchases. Many of those 90% of Americans really love guns. They get it: A background check isn’t an assault on the Second Amendment.

If America hopes to take steps forward in the wake of gun tragedies — and many steps beyond background checks are needed — we shouldn’t force people to pick false sides. Gun lovers and gun haters don’t always have to stand on opposite sides of a line. Instead, let’s see if we can’t build a new coalition around people who love logic.

Here are some ideas such a coalition could be built upon:

• Guns are going to be a part of American society for a long, long time to come. That bite of the apple already has been swallowed. America is not going to turn into a place like some European countries where gun ownership is rare. Just the sheer number of firearms already in circulation in America makes any idea to the contrary fanciful. Politicians who talk otherwise are harming realistic ideas for today.

• We already have a system in place to check the backgrounds of firearms purchasers. The FBI has been operating the National Instant Criminal Background Check System since 1998. The issue isn’t whether we should be checking backgrounds. The issue is whether we should close a loophole in the law. Sales between private parties that happen in the same state often aren’t subjected to the NICS background check. Focus efforts on closing that loophole. It isn’t the only thing that needs to be done, but it would produce a victory that could produce momentum for more. Remember, this isn’t inventing the wheel. This is airing up the tire.

• If “mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun,” then logic dictates we should have a background check system that screens for mental illness. Hatred is tougher to define, but there are clinical definitions for mental illness. No one is assaulting the Second Amendment by saying that people with certain medical conditions shouldn’t be able to buy a gun until their health improves. As a country, we obviously already agree that state of mind and a certain capacity for responsibility are requisites for gun ownership. Otherwise, we would strike all laws prohibiting gun sales to children, given that the Second Amendment doesn’t specifically preclude such sales.

Closing the loophole on background checks is feasible. It actually can happen, if parties put aside old arguments and focus on what should be a relatively small task that appears to have overwhelming public support.

But, as previously noted, it will take more than background checks. Many of those debates can wait, but it would be inappropriate in the wake of these tragedies to not address the topic of white nationalism.

There is much that can be said, but a coalition built on logic easily should be able to agree on this: White nationalism, of course, is wrong. But further, leaders who use casual rhetoric surrounding race and immigration have the potential to do much harm — especially when you are the most quoted person on earth. President Trump’s re-election campaign has posted more than 2,000 ads on Facebook that include the word “invasion” to describe the immigration crisis on the southern border, according to a report in The New York Times. That is a dangerous short-selling of the meaning of invasion. Ask someone who lived in Poland or France in World War II, for example, if activity on the southern border seems like an invasion.

A coalition of logic would reject the idea that someone who peddles such rhetoric can’t comprehend how an unstable individual takes that analogy too far and injects literal bullets into the president’s figurative war.

Perhaps one of the greater questions facing our country is whether a coalition of logic-lovers can come to agree that leaders should be inclusive, humane and reasoned. Again, don’t be forced into picking false sides. You can be in favor of tougher border security without peddling rhetoric that so easily can lead to hate and violence.

On that point, voters should run their own background checks on all candidates prior to any future election.


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