The Internet and the Background Check Problem

As I've noted on this blog before, the federal government's policy on background checks has very little chance of being effective: Licensed gun dealers need to conduct checks, but private individuals selling their own collections don't. Any criminal with half a brain simply avoids licensed dealers and gets his guns through private sources. This is often called a "loophole," but in fact it reflects both the letter and the spirit of the law.

There have always been plenty of opportunities for private sales -- from family and friends to newspaper classified ads to gun shows. (Though, contrary to popular myth, licensed gun dealers still need to conduct checks when they sell at shows.) But as a new report from the liberal group Third Way makes clear (see below), the Internet makes these transactions even easier to arrange. Focusing on a single website's ads in ten states, the group found 15,000 guns for sale -- and 2,000 ads by people specifically looking to buy a gun from a private seller.

Of course, while the simple solution of requiring more background checks is popular, it's pretty difficult to implement in practice, given the inherent difficulties in enforcing background-check laws, the prevalence of gun ownership, and the political power of gun owners. Thus even the timid Toomey-Manchin bill fell flat on its face earlier this year, and Democrats have temporarily abandoned the renewed gun-control push they promised.

Gun owners want to be able to give firearms to family members without undue hassle, and even the president's initial background-check proposal would have allowed this. They're not fans of anyone keeping records of each and every transaction, either. And they don't want to be charged a fee for excercising a constitutional right. A background-check bill that (A) stands a chance politically, (B) would make it significantly harder for criminals to get guns, and (C) doesn't cost the government too much money is extremely hard to come by.

Anyhow, here's the full report:

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