Background Checks Bill: New Congress Must Fix Old Problem of Guns Falling Into The Wrong Hands | Opinion

It has been 22 years since Congress passed any major legislation to address America's gun violence crisis.

Since then, more than 700,000 Americans have been shot and killed—a total that exceeds all U.S. troop fatalities since the Civil War. Last year alone, nearly 40,000 Americans were killed by guns, the highest death toll in at least 50 years. While mass shootings like those in Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Parkland capture the most media attention, gun suicide and daily gun violence claim the vast majority of victims.

Today, eight years to the day after the mass shooting in Arizona that killed six people and wounded 13, including former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives introduced a bill that aims to break the pattern of congressional inaction and fix America's background checks law, which is riddled with loopholes.

Any legislators who are on the fence about this bill should consider the story of Zina Daniel Haughton, a 42-year-old mother of two who worked at a spa in Brookfield, Wisconsin. In 2012, Zina obtained a restraining order against her estranged husband, who had previously slashed her tires and threatened her physically. That restraining order was entered into the national background checks system, and should have prevented him from buying a gun.

Except it didn't. Likely knowing that he wouldn't be able to pass a background check, Zina's husband went online and took advantage of the most dangerous loophole in our laws: Unlicensed sellers, who are all over the internet, aren't required to conduct background checks. After a quick visit to — the largest online gun marketplace in the world—he was able to find an unlicensed seller, set up a meeting in a McDonald's parking lot, and buy a handgun with no questions asked. The next day, he stormed into the spa where Zina worked and murdered her and two other women before turning the gun on himself.

The flaw that Zina's killer exploited is massive. All told, nearly one quarter of Americans who acquire a gun do so without getting a background check. This is like having two types of security lines at the airport: one for people who are willing to be screened, and one you can waltz right through packing whatever you want.

The tragic absurdity of this system was driven home less than a week after the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, when Everytown for Gun Safety released video footage of a private investigator walking into a gun show and buying multiple firearms similar to those used by the Vegas shooter—all without a background check, and all completely legal.

The solution is both simple and obvious: Expand our national background checks requirement to include all gun sales. This won't completely solve the gun violence crisis—but it will keep more guns out of dangerous hands. In 2017, the current system denied more than 170,000 gun sales, 39 percent of them to convicted felons — so we know background checks work.

"But what about the Second Amendment?" some legislators may be asking. Elvin Daniel, who is Zina's brother and also a hunter, gun owner, and member of the National Rifle Association, put it well when he testified before the Senate: "Gun owners like me are used to background checks—we do a background check every time we buy a gun at a store or from a dealer. They're easy, they're quick, and they prevent guns from being sold to criminals."

The midterm elections provided the strongest proof yet that a decisive majority of Americans agree with Elvin. Across the country, voters overwhelmingly supported candidates who promised to stand up for gun safety. Public polling backs this up: According to the Pew Research Center, 85 percent of voters support background checks at gun shows and for private sales — including 79 percent of Republicans. For more Americans than ever, gun safety isn't a matter of right or left—it's a matter of life or death.

Now it's time for our elected officials in Washington to get on board. With the introduction of this bill, the new leadership of the House is fulfilling their promise to make background checks one of their first priorities. Every member of the House should vote in favor of this bipartisan legislation. And every American who cares about gun safety should pressure the Senate to do its part and ensure that a strong law makes it all the way through Congress.

Closing these fatal loopholes will save lives. It will also be a fitting tribute to Zina's family and the millions of other survivors of gun violence who must live with the knowledge that a better background checks law might have saved their loved ones.

John Feinblatt is the President of Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the United States.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​

Background Checks Bill: New Congress Must Fix Old Problem of Guns Falling Into The Wrong Hands | Opinion | Opinion