Letter: Gun-sale background checks will save lives

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What practical action can we take as responsible citizens to help prevent at least some wrongful shooting deaths of innocent victims?

On Jan. 19 the secretary of state’s office was presented with more than 80,000 signatures in support of an act for the 2016 ballot designed to reduce gun violence in Maine by requiring criminal background checks on all gun sales. This initiative would close a deadly loophole in the law that enables criminals, domestic abusers, and other dangerous people to buy guns.

With signatures from every town or city in the state, this effort represents the broadest possible cross section of Maine residents, and includes gun owners and National Rifle Association members.

There’s a common misconception that all gun sales already require a criminal background check under federal law. In fact, only licensed gun dealers are required to conduct background checks, leaving unlicensed private sellers free to sell guns to anyone with no questions asked. The background check initiative closes this loophole, requiring the same criminal background check for all gun sales in Maine.

No single policy can prevent every tragedy. This measure, however, will save lives in Maine. Research shows that criminal background checks work. Since the federal background check requirements took effect in 1998, background checks have prevented nearly 2.5 million gun sales to criminals and other dangerous people throughout the country.

I encourage you to support this initiative to require background checks for all gun sales. It is the least we can do.

Kate S. Debevoise