Appeared on OregonLive.com May 18, 2013
Last July, Prineville police responding to a call found Willard Wilhelm with a loaded gun. Wilhelm had previously been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence assault. There were two women and four children in the home when Wilhelm was arrested.
In December, Portland police responded to reports of two boys, 11 and 7 years old, who tried to carjack a woman with a loaded handgun. The 11-year-old had taken the gun from his home, where his father, a convicted felon, had left it in easy reach.
In January, Timothy Gaines was sentenced to prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm. The conviction stemmed from an incident where the 20-year-old Gaines was seen throwing a gun as he fled the scene of a shooting. Gaines, a gang member, committed this new crime just a month after his release from prison for an unlawful use of a weapon conviction. And in March, two men were arrested in Clatsop County after deputies served a warrant and found 21 firearms, body armor, methamphetamine, stolen IDs, brass knuckles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Both had felony records.
Unusual cases? I’m afraid not. One in every five cases prosecuted federally in Oregon last year involved illegal use or possession of a firearm. Most of Oregon homicides and suicides involve a firearm.
The atrocities in Connecticut, Colorado and Clackamas demonstrate that no community is immune to the threat of gun violence. Why? In part, because it is so easy for violent criminals, drug dealers, batterers and those whom a judge has deemed to be mentally ill to get guns.
Requiring all gun purchasers to undergo a criminal background check is a rational way to fill the gaping hole in our current system that allows crooks to bypass the process most gun owners willingly go through. The procedure takes about five minutes and every year prevents about 80,000 prohibited people nationwide from getting a gun.
Up to 40 percent of guns are bought from private parties without a background check. Those seeking to avoid scrutiny can easily do so. Recent polls show that 94 percent of police chiefs, 74 percent of NRA members and 87 percent of all Americans support universal background checks. Still, the Senate failed to pass legislation that would have fixed the loophole.
Would expanding background checks end gun violence? Certainly not. We need proactive, multidisciplinary strategies that address youth and gang violence, an overhaul of our mental health system, and a cultural shift toward compassion and community and away from cynicism and isolation.
But while we are working on that, we should note that states requiring background checks for all gun sales have seen gun trafficking reduced by half and a significant decrease in domestic violence homicides where guns were used.
I am not “anti-gun.” I enjoy shooting. My 12-year-old is looking forward to his hunter’s safety course and then heading out this fall to hunt with his father and uncle.
Requiring a background check of every gun buyer will not erode the Second Amendment any more than it does currently for those who purchase from a gun dealer.
Lawbreakers will continue to commit crimes. But as crime fighters, we need tools that make it harder for criminals to obtain guns and hold those who help them accountable. Don’t we owe it to our children and families to do whatever we can?