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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Expanded Gun Background Checks Rejected By Senate

“They can’t be on airplanes but they can walk into a firearms dealer and pass a background check.”

The Senate rejected expanding background checks on firearms purchases today, one day after a pair of shooters killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California.

One of the proposals, made by California Senator Diane Feinstein, would have kept people on the Federal government’s No Fly List from buying guns. 

President Obama came out in support of the idea yesterday, but Republicans slapped down the ban, saying the list contained too many errors and would amount to a violation of a due process. 

“They can’t be on airplanes but they can walk into a firearms dealer and pass a background check,” said Ari Freilich, a staff attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. 

Freilich said this even applies in states like California that have closed the gun show loophole. Only 16 states have laws requiring background checks for gun sales made at gun shows and by private sellers. 

Details about some of the guns used in yesterday’s attack on a state run facility for the disabled in San Bernardino are still murky. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has confirmed that one of the suspects, Syed Rizwan Farook, legally purchased two handguns, but has not confirmed the origins of a pair of assault-style rifles also used in the attack. 

Almost a million firearms were purchased or transferred in 2015, according to the California Department of Justice. 

Many of these, however, weren’t bought in gun stores, but were exchanged between private individuals. 

“You have to go to a dealer, turn in the gun, and the purchaser fills out the paperwork as if he were buying a new gun,” said Sam Paredes, Executive Director of Gun Owners of California.

The firearms dealer will then hold the gun for a ten day waiting period while state and federal background checks into the purchaser are made. 

“Any legal transfers of firearms in the state of California must go through licensed firearms dealers. Period.”

It wasn’t always like this. Before 1992, private gun deals in California could be made with little to no oversight or documentation. As a result, Paredes said, most of the guns in the state are unregistered. 

“Firearms aren’t like cake, they don’t go stale,” he said. “If someone who acquired a firearm before 1992 and wanted to sell it now that firearm would be registered.”

Records of who has owned what gun and when remain far from complete. 

“Records for sales of long-guns have only been kept since 2014,” said Ari Freilich. “The law only permitted retention of handgun sales.”

He said that before last year records of the sales of shotguns and rifles were maintained by gun dealers and that these records weren’t permanent. In many states, not even this requirement was in effect. 

“Many states prohibit law enforcement from keeping records of any gun sales,” Paredes said.  

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