Expanding gun background checks to include all sales — the crux of President Obama’s new executive gun control push — would not have stopped the firearms from reaching the hands of recent mass shooters, according to studies and experts who have looked at the issue.
From the 2012 Newtown school shooting that reignited the gun debate to last month’s terrorist shooting in California, the firearms used were purchased from licensed dealers by individuals who all passed background checks.
In that California case, the terrorist couple used weapons bought by a friend, who passed the background check then gave the guns to the husband and wife who would go on to kill 14 people. Enrique Marquez, the friend, has been indicted on charges of lying on his background check application because he didn’t reveal his plans to turn the weapons over — but he did pass the background check.
Chris Harper-Mercer, who went on a shooting spree at Umpqua Community College in October, used guns he and other family members bought, each of them clearing the FBI’s mandated background check. And in the case of Newtown, gunman Adam Lanza used weapons that had been legally purchased by his mother.
In more than a dozen mass shootings since Newtown, analyses by The Washington Post and New York Times found none of them involved firearms purchased from unlicensed people — the so-called “gun-show loophole” — that Mr. Obama moved to crack down on this week.
That’s not to say all of the sales in those shootings should have gone through.
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Dylann Roof, accused of killing nine people in a South Carolina church last July, should not have been able to buy a gun because of a prior arrest, but FBI Director James Comey said a federal examiner had missed the arrest report in which Mr. Roof admitted he was in possession of drugs.
And though the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting predated the analysis, gunman Seung-Hui Cho had been adjudicated mentally ill by a judge but was able to slip through the system because his records were never sent to a federal database.
The White House defended its new proposal, which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is publishing this week, saying that thousands of people are murdered each year and many of the killers should never have had access to weapons.
The new ATF rule would require all sellers — including those who sell or trade their own firearms at gun shows or over the Internet — to get a license and conduct background checks.
The White House also said the FBI is working toward processing background checks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and improving the notification of local authorities when certain people illegally try to buy a gun.
The National Institute of Justice’s data on private sales is decades old, stemming from the 1990s, but those reports estimated that between 30 and 40 percent of gun purchases are made on the secondary market, which includes unlicensed gun show sales, relatives, friends and street dealers.
SEE ALSO: Enrique Marquez charged with aiding San Bernardino terror attacks
Gun rights advocates said the administration’s efforts would be better put into enforcing existing laws, rather than trying to enact new policies like expanded background checks.
“It’s not going to reduce crime; it’s not going to stop these mass public shootings,” said John R. Lott Jr., president of the Crime Prevention Research Center.
Proponents of new gun controls, though, say that while increased background checks might not stop every shooter, they could help mitigate or prevent future attacks.
Brady Campaign President Dan Gross said Monday that the existing background checks conducted by licensed dealers have blocked more than 2.4 million gun sales to “prohibited purchasers,” “saving countless lives.”
The problem is every day there are thousands of commercial sales where background checks are not required,” he said. “Thanks to the president’s historic action today that will no longer be the case.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who has pushed for further controls in the wake of the 2012 Newtown school shooting, said Monday that while increased checks wouldn’t have stopped people like Lanza, Mr. Obama’s actions could help reduce violence in the country.
“I mean, everybody agrees that you should just, at the very least, prove that you are not a criminal before you buy a gun,” Mr. Murphy said on MSNBC. “And, listen, background checks wouldn’t have saved the lives of those kids in Sandy Hook, but those families are dedicated to trying to save other lives in places like Chicago or Bridgeport or New York, and this executive action, if he goes through with it, it will lead to less slaughter out in the streets of America.”