Jonathan Kraut | The Big Lie About Background Checks for Gun Purchases

There has been a lot of discussion about running “universal background checks” for firearms purchases. It would seem as though with the push of a button someone’s criminal and abusive past could be revealed.

The fact is that there is no “instant” or online method of determining who to trust and gun purchase backgrounds are not “universal.” 

I hate to play the “expert card,” but over almost 25 years my firm has performed over 1 million background checks and I testify in court regarding this process.

What I am about to disclose is not only disturbing, but also I hope will help deter some of you from making fatal decisions regarding who to hire, who to rent to, or who to date.

There are essentially 12 types of sources necessary to run a comprehensive background search. 

These include federal criminal courts, sex offender registries, state incarceration records, county criminal records, municipal criminal records, county domestic abuse records, FBI and national misconduct registries, jail records, active warrant data, skip traces to verification of name and identification, civil harassment and stalking cases, and domestic violence filings.

Nearly every county and municipal data system must be searched separately, often to include checking by hand actually at the court. My firm, as do many other investigation firms, has agents available in every county in every state to hand-search files as needed.

The comprehensive search process takes about three business days and we get pretty much about everything.

So, tell me how, at a push of a button, people think all these elements can possibly be checked instantly? They can’t.

Even the State of California Live Scan system, which is required of all teachers and medical professionals, for example, only checks the FBI fingerprint database and California criminal records. Live scans do not search for harassment, child or elder abuse, stalking, domestic violence, or for any criminal records from the other 49 states.

Most criminals know that if they just move to a new state, their previous misconduct will not be found by a Live Scan.

The same goes for Brady Bill background checks for gun purchases. If we want to check the background of everyone who wishes to buy a weapon, why is the Brady Bill background process horribly inadequate? 

The FBI currently fails to examine about half of the above-mentioned 12 sources to be searched. In addition, since states are not required to maintain a mental illness directory, most diagnoses for worrisome mental conditions are never identified.

The FBI estimates that about 1 in 3 of all U.S. adults have a criminal record and about 1 in 12 are convicted felons. In addition, another significant number of adults have domestic violence, stalking, or harassment cases. 

We expect that about 1 in 10 of those applying to purchase a firearm should fail the Brady Bill background check. Since 1994, when background checks for firearms purchases began, 278 million requests have been made. I suspect that about two-thirds of the requests were from repeat buyers. 

If correct, about 91 million separate individuals applied to purchase a firearm since 1994. Yet only 3 million applicants have been denied. 

This means the Brady Bill background check is not “universal” and has failed to identify at least 6 million felons and other dangerous criminals who still bought a firearm.

I support the current House bill to require everyone to undergo a background check, to include those at gun shows and wishing to buy online. There is no logical reason any retail gun transaction buyer should be excluded from character examination.

I am a proponent that each state be required to create and allow the FBI to search state mental illness registries.

I strongly advocate that the FBI start searching domestic violence, stalking, elder abuse, child abuse and civil harassment cases that currently they ignore.

I don’t believe the Second Amendment entitles every adult to possess a weapon of mass destruction — an assault rifle. Handguns for self-defense and single-shot hunting rifles are fine. Weapons designed for warfare are not OK.

As we can see from the recent massacre in El Paso, even in an open-carry state like Texas, an armed local population could not effectively put down a maniac with an assault rifle before the police arrived. Open-carry may be custom but seems to not make us safer.

Even as a former NRA academy owner, I believe it is time we eliminate literal weapons of war from public ownership and diligently look into someone’s past and temperament before arming them. 

Jonathan Kraut directs a private investigations firm, is the CFO private security firm, is the COO of an Acting Conservatory, a published author, and Democratic Party activist. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or of other organizations.     

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