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Do background checks actually matter?

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

We are once again discussing gun control due to the massacre in a Texas church over last weekend. One of the questions is whether a background check would have prevented the shooting.

Ross: What we learned from terrible shooting

In the case of the Texas shooting, the Air Force admits it never submitted the shooter’s domestic violence conviction, which should have been enough to prevent him from legally buying a firearm.

But do background check laws actually help?

Dr. Garen Wintemute has studied the effects of background check laws in Washington and Colorado; the two states recently adopted more comprehensive laws. He says there wasn’t the increase in the overall number of background checks that you might expect once a bunch of firearm transactions became subject to the law. Wintemute says this wouldn’t be the first time a law looks good on face value thanks to non-adherence or non-aggressive enforcement.

Plus, the people trying to avoid background checks will likely find a way to get their guns.

“I will agree that the way for such a person to buy a gun will avoid a background check,” he said.

The state’s law now puts more liability on gun sellers. If they refuse to follow the rules and forego a background check, they could be held at least partially responsible for the actions of the gun buyer. The key, Wintemute says, is reminding gun sellers of that fact.

“Most private-party sellers want to do the right thing and this makes it easier to do the right thing and harder to do the wrong thing.

“I do think it would be worthwhile for agencies to remind buyers and sellers what their responsibilities are.”

Of course, other problems exist with background checks. Tiffany Teasdale-Causer, co-owner of Lynnwood Gun, told KIRO 7 that if someone in Washington state is not fingerprinted after being convicted of a crime, they are not put into the background check system with the FBI. Even a simple clerical mistake, she says, could allow someone who shouldn’t be able to buy a gun to do so.

Listen to the entire conversation here.

Meanwhile, Christopher Combs, the agent in charge of investigating the Texas church shooting, says “active shooter” incidents are likely to continue — and Americans need to prepare themselves.

“I think everybody, no matter where you are, needs to think about this. We should all be thinking about what do we do if a crisis breaks out right here.”

And one of the reasons we have to start thinking this way is that this shooter, who had a history of mental health issues, beat up his wife and kid, and was kicked out of the Air Force after hatching a plan to attack his superior officers, had free and legal access to any gun he could afford.

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