This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
A vast majority of Americans tell pollsters that they want more background checks on private-party gun sales. On Wednesday, 45 U.S. senators essentially told them to take a hike.
Those senators – 41 Republicans and four Democrats – shamefully blocked even a vote on a reasonable expansion of background checks for gun purchases. Sixty votes were needed for the measure to advance.
On the same day, The New York Times reported on how ridiculously easy it is for people to illegally buy weapons online – no questions asked, no background search conducted.
The Times found that sites like Armslist.com “function as unregulated bazaars, where the essential anonymity of the Internet allows unlicensed sellers to advertise scores of weapons and people illegally barred from gun ownership to buy them.”
Currently, background checks are required only on weapons bought from federally licensed gun dealers. Private transactions, including those done online, are exempt – the so-called “gun-show loophole,” which more accurately should be called the “private-party loophole.”
Although most Americans agree that private gun ownership is a protected right, polls also show that they overwhelmingly support background checks as a tool for keeping at least some guns out of the hands of people who have no business owning them: convicted felons, the mentally ill and minors.
No one is under any illusion that such a requirement would prevent all illegal sales, but then laws against murder don’t prevent some people from killing. More background checks would prevent many wrongful sales and make it harder – or at least more expensive – to unlawfully buy guns.
The Times found people like Gerard Toolin, a Connecticut fugitive from justice with outstanding felony warrants, seeking to buy an AK-47 assault weapon on Armslist. His Facebook account showed photos of an AK-47 and other guns he had already purchased.
Given the volume of their ad postings, many online sellers appear to operate as unlicensed gun dealers — in violation of federal law. Some ads assure would-be buyers: “no questions asked” and “no paperwork” — in other words, no chance that they will be denied a gun even if they’re convicted felons or just got out of a mental hospital.
It’s also illegal to sell to an out-of-state buyer, but apparently that happens a lot, too. Take the case of a Kent man, Benedict Ladera. In 2011, he sold a pistol to a Canadian resident who then murdered a Chicago woman with it. Ladera was sentenced to a year in prison for the illegal sale.
That case is unusual only because someone was actually prosecuted for the illegal online gun sale. Identifying those who wrongly sell or buy guns is almost impossible because the websites protect users’ anonymity.
What will it take to finally convince Congress to honor their constituents’ wishes on background checks? Something more horrific than Newtown? Shame on those 45 senators.