In his “Let’s not talk about gun control anymore” column, Edgar Allen Beem wrote “background checks are obviously not the whole answer, but they do keep some guns out of the wrong hands.” In the same issue, Fred W. Nehring’s letter (“Treat the mentally ill, but don’t arm them”) said “every country has mentally ill people; we just arm them better. One thing we need to do is insist on universal background checks on all gun sales and transfers.”
Maybe both are correct, but what is equally true (and equally important) is that while background checks may keep guns out of some of the wrong hands, they do not keep guns out of all of the wrong hands.
This is not a subtle or trivial distinction. The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check database contains the names of people who have been convicted of serious crimes. It does not, however, contain the names of people who have been “convicted” of mental illness, because mental illness is not a crime. It is a medical condition, and privacy laws prevent the promiscuous dissemination of medical records and information.
Gun control advocates are fond of “closing loopholes” and this is a big one. It’ll be interesting to see what schemes they come up with to close this loophole.