The Keeping Guns from Criminals Act
When President Obama spoke to a grieving nation after the horrific church shooting in Charleston, it was the 15th time he has had to do so in the wake of a mass shooting. When those 9 souls were gunned down in Emanuel AME Church, they were 9 of the more than 30,000 Americans who will be killed by guns this year alone. And when the President said that “at some point it’s going to be important…for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence,” Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA) was listening. It was with that purpose in mind that he introduced—and Third Way is proud to endorse—the Keeping Guns from Criminals Act.
Bipartisan legislation requiring background checks for commercial gun sales failed last Congress, and its prospects in the immediate future look bleak at best, given the makeup of the 114th Congress. It’s time to target this nation’s toothless gun laws in a whole new way—and that’s what the Keeping Guns from Criminals Act would do. Instead of mandating background checks, it encourages voluntary ones by cracking down on people who sell guns to felons, domestic abusers, the dangerously mentally ill, and anyone else prohibited from owning a gun under federal law.
Right now, in order to prosecute someone for selling a gun to an illegal buyer, the government must be able to show that the seller knew the buyer was prohibited from owning a gun. That’s an almost impossible standard unless we plan to add “mind reader” to the list of qualifications for Assistant U.S. Attorneys. Many private sales are performed between strangers, facilitated by anonymous online marketplaces like Armslist.com, and completed on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” basis. The Keeping Guns from Criminals Act would do away with this unenforceable “knowing” standard, making it a crime to sell a gun to an illegal buyer unless the seller can show that the buyer passed a background check or had a valid concealed carry permit. Background checks can be easily performed by the nation’s nearly 130,000 licensed gun stores—and 98% of Americans live within 10 miles of one. So if a gun seller isn’t sure that a buyer isn’t a criminal, it is his or her responsibility to find out before handing that person their gun.
The Second Amendment isn’t just about rights—it’s also about responsibilities, and any responsible gun owner wants to make sure that when he or she sells a gun, it isn’t to the wrong hands. The Keeping Guns from Criminals Act would simply ensure that all gun owners do what the responsible ones are already doing—making sure that the person buying their used gun isn’t a criminal.