Column: Modest steps on gun control

Sometime this spring, in an attempt to do something — anything — on gun control, the U.S. Senate will revive a bill that would require people who buy guns from unlicensed dealers to undergo federal background checks, closing a gap often called the “gun show loophole.” If it passes, this exceedingly modest measure will make gun purchases a tiny bit harder for criminals, people with mental illness and others who shouldn’t be roaming our streets with firearms. The National Rifle Association will scream about an imaginary threat to the Second Amendment. And liberals who favor strict, European-style firearm controls will express disgust at the measure’s painfully narrow ambition. But as limited as the Senate proposal is, “it would be the most significant expansion of background checks in 28 years,” Jim Kessler of the centrist group Third Way, who has worked on gun legislation for decades, told me last week. And that’s why the battle to pass it is one worth having. Under current law, anyone who buys a firearm from a gun store or other licensed dealer must pass a federal background check, a process that normally takes less than two minutes. But in most states, people who buy guns from unlicensed dealers, including sellers who list their wares on the internet, don’t need to pass a background check. A survey by researchers at Northeastern University estimated that 22% of guns are sold that way — as were, for example, the weapons used in a 2019 mass shooting in […]

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