It’s appropriate that Senator Diane Feinstein opened her press conference on gun control Thursday with a prayer from Rev. Gary Hall from Washington’s National Cathedral. It will take divine intervention to get through Congress a ban on 150 different types of guns.
Gun control is a non-starter in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, and even a long shot in the Senate, where the normally outspoken Majority Leader Harry Reid has been cryptic.
West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who seemed open to more gun control shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting, has shifted back to a more pro-gun stance. The Senator has, however, voiced strong support for the least controversial measure in the gun debate: universal background checks.
“I’m working on a bill right now with other Senators, Democrats and Republicans—we’re trying to get it, and looking at a background check that basically says if you’re going to be a gun owner, you should be able to pass a background check.”
Manchin says the legislation would, however, include exceptions for an exchange of guns between family members or the use of guns at certain sporting events.
That measure would close what some call the “gun show loophole.” Currently, all federally licensed firearms dealers have to perform background checks. However, private dealers, who are often found at gun shows, do not.
Subjecting the vast majority of gun transactions to the same rules makes sense. Strong supporters of the Second Amendment should embrace any change that helps keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons, the mentally ill and others prohibited from owning firearms.
However, it’s not necessarily that simple.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is the database used for the federal background checks, is incomplete.
The system “doesn’t include millions of people legally barred from owning guns, researchers and advocates say,” according to the Journal. “Fourteen states list fewer than five people flagged for mental illness.”
The Journal says part of the problem is that a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court decision “struck down part of the law requiring states to report mental-health records.”
Manchin says applying the background checks equally is just “common sense,” and he’s right. However, for those checks to be effective, the states and the federal government have to do a better job of making sure that all the appropriate records are getting to the FBI.
Otherwise, background checks are just a shot in the dark.