A bill pending before the PA House of Representatives (HB 1010) and Senate (SB 1049) would require that purchasers of “long guns” from a seller who is not a dealer or manufacturer pass a background check before a registered dealer, importer, manufacturer or county sheriff’s office. (Transfers between certain family members are exempt.)
But we already have background checks, don’t we?
State code (Title 18, sect. 6111.f2) says that background checks in private sales (thus, from non-dealers at a gun show, over the internet, or on the street) are required only for
pistols or revolvers with a barrel length of less than 15 inches, any shotgun with a barrel length of less than 18 inches, any rifle with a barrel length of less than 16 inches or any firearm with an overall length of less than 26 inches.
So a long gun purchase needs a background check if made from a licensed dealer (in a store, at a gun show, wherever), but not if from an unlicensed seller.
It’s hard to why this loophole exists if the General Assembly’s goal were to protect public safety. Someone planning a terrorist attack or wanting to kill an estranged spouse can go the “private” route and buy an armload of long guns in PA. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, “An estimated 40% of all firearms transferred in the U.S. are transferred by unlicensed individuals.”
HB 1010 would end the exemption on background checks for private long gun sales. In return, as a convenience to people who feel they need to buy more than one gun at a go, it allows a single background check to count for the duration of a gun show, up to 48 hours.
But, some might say, a rifle or shotgun is just used for hunting; what’s the big deal?
First, rifles have been used in terroristic shootings. An in-state example is the 2014 shooting of two state troopers in Pike County PA. The nearly 7-week manhunt disrupted local life and occupied up to 1,000 police officers–obviously an expensive affair for the public, and even worse for the killed trooper and his wounded colleague.
Many other killers, as in the Colorado Planned Parenthood killing of three a couple of weeks ago, have also used rifles.
But what’s even more serious is that rapid-fire high-capacity long guns count in the same category as rifles and shotguns.
At Sandy Hook Elementary School 3 years ago today, on December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza killed 20 children and 6 adults with a Bushmaster .223 caliber model XM15-E2S rifle with a high capacity 30-round magazine (he also carried two handguns, one of which he used to kill himself) and also had a shotgun in his car.
The “Beltway Sniper” in 2002 killed 10 and injured 3 critically
with a “stolen Bushmaster XM-15 (AR-15 style) semiautomatic .223 caliber rifle equipped with an EOTech holographic weapon sight.”
The Colorado movie theater shooter in 2012 killed 12 with a semi-automatic rifle, the AR-15, used with a magazine of 100 rounds.
And earlier this month, assault rifles killed 14 and wounded 21 in San Bernadino (image of the weapons used from New York Times, 12/4/15).
Such scary merchandise can currently be bought privately in PA, with no background check.
HB 1010 / SB 1049 could be finally getting some traction in Harrisburg. From Chester County Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, here are the positions of Chesco members of the PA House on the bill:
13 John Lawrence
26 Tim Hennessey
74 Harry Lewis cosponsor
155 Becky Corbin
156 Dan Truitt supports
157 Warren Kampf cosponsor
158 Chris Ross cosponsor
160 Stephen Barrar
167 Duane Milne
and in the State Senate:
9 Dominic Pileggi cosponsor
19 Andy Dinniman cosponsor
26 Thomas McGarrigle cosponsor
44 John Rafferty
So, that’s a total of 7 out of 13 favorable. As the heat on the others rises, it will be interesting to see if they are drawn to the light. (Please post a comment if you know of other Chesco legislators’ positions on the bills.)
According to a Pew Research Center poll in July
85% of Americans – including large majorities of Democrats (88%) and Republicans (79%) – favor expanded background checks.
Expanded, that is, to include gun shows and private sales. Interestingly (per the full downloadable report), 82% of those respondents “who say it is more important to protect gun rights favor expanded background checks on private gun sales.” Even 74% of NRA members approve of universal background checks (which is what PA would have if HB 1010 / SB 1049 becomes law).
After all, most of us are eager to minimize the danger of death and injury to our friends, relatives, and selves, really to anyone, and according to the Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence,
Researchers confirm that universal background check laws effectively improve public safety and save lives. Research has found that states with universal background check laws experience 48 percent less gun trafficking, 38 percent fewer deaths of women shot by intimate partners, and 17 percent fewer firearms involved in aggravated assaults. States with universal background check requirements also have a 53 percent lower gun suicide rate, and 31 percent fewer suicides per capita than states without these laws.