Federal background check system in spotlight after Highland Park shooting
America is once again grappling with the devastating fallout of an episode of gun violence – this time after a deadly shooting at a 4th of July parade rekindled public outcry over gun politics in the USA.
Hours after gunfire ripped through the parade in Highland Park, Illinois, killing seven people and injuring dozens more, police apprehended the man they believe was responsible.
The incident brought attention to — and renewed questions about — access to firearms in the United States under current law and screening processes to prevent gun violence.
A group of bipartisan lawmakers recently succeeded in passing new gun safety legislation in Congress, but the Highland Park shooting has sparked new calls from Democratic lawmakers for tougher gun control policy.
The shooting also raised questions about proposed policies or existing law that may have prevented this latest high-profile incident of gun violence.
Robert “Bobby” E. Crimo III, 21, faces seven first-degree murder charges in connection with the shooting, which authorities say he allegedly committed by climbing onto the roof of a nearby business and opening fire minutes into the parade, sending onlookers and participants running for safety.
State police confirmed Tuesday that Crimo passed four background checks between June 2020 and September 2021 when buying firearms, which included checks from the national federal instant criminal background check system.
Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that she is “looking forward to an explanation” for how Crimo was able to obtain firearms.
“We know that in other countries people have mental illness, they have anger, maybe they play violent video games, but they can’t get their hands on these weapons of war and they can’t not bring this kind of carnage to their hometowns,” Rotering said. “It has to stop.”
Authorities believe Crimo planned the attack for weeks, and the gun he used and another he allegedly had when he was arrested by police appear to have been purchased legally in Illinois, said said Chris Covelli, spokesman for the Lake County Major Crime Task Force. Other weapons were recovered from his home in nearby Highwood.
To buy firearms in Illinois, people need a Firearms Owner Identification (FOID) card. Crimo was under 21, so he was sponsored by his father, state police said. Crimo’s request was not denied because there was “no sufficient basis to establish a clear and present danger” at the time, officials said.
The only offense included in Crimo’s history was a January 2016 ordinance violation for possession of tobacco, police said, which occurred when he was a minor.
In the United States, gun laws have generally been “written to facilitate commerce as much as to protect public safety,” said Daniel Webster, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, in an interview.
“Our laws are slanted toward failing to ‘let someone get a gun’, as opposed to ‘let’s go through a deliberative process’ before we get a lethal weapon.”
Under the existing background check system, federally licensed firearms dealers must perform background checks on every purchaser. Buyers may then be prohibited from purchasing a firearm based on a variety of factors, including criminal history such as a conviction for a criminal crime or a decision made through an arbitration process that a person poses a threat to themselves or others because of their mental state. .
A buyer attempting to purchase a firearm from a federally licensed dealer must present government-issued identification to the seller and complete a form designed to screen for any potentially disqualifying factors, which would legally prohibit the person to buy or possess a firearm. The seller would typically submit the information to the FBI so the agency can verify the applicant’s information against databases. The process can take as little as a few minutes.
Congress recently passed legislation known as the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which amounts to the first major federal gun safety legislation in decades. The bill, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden, makes significant changes to gun policy in the United States, including provisions that will affect gun sales.
In a key change, the bill requires people who sell guns for profit — who have previously avoided registering as federally licensed gun dealers — to be licensed. of a permit.
“There are individuals who sell a lot of firearms and do it as a private seller without a license and it is clear that they are doing it for profit … which will give the (Bureau of Liquor, Tobacco, of firearms and explosives) the ability to prosecute people who sell a lot of firearms without a license and this will require more of these people to obtain a license and therefore to carry out background checks for any sale of firearms to fire,” said Webster of the Center for Gun Violence Solutions.
“It’s really important because we’re talking about a good number of firearms that will now go through background checks or just won’t be sold.”
This bill also closes a years-old loophole in domestic violence law – the so-called boyfriend loophole – which prohibited people who have been convicted of crimes of domestic violence against spouses, partners with who they share children or partners with whom they cohabit to have firearms. . The old laws did not include intimate partners who could not live together, be married or share children. Now the law will make it illegal for anyone convicted of a crime of domestic violence against someone with whom they have a “continuing serious relationship of a romantic or intimate nature” to have a firearm.
In addition, the bill encourages states to include minors’ records in the nation’s instant criminal background check system with grants and to implement a new protocol for checking those records.
Despite the implementation of the new bipartisan law, there are still ways buyers can slip through the cracks in the existing system and ways to make the federal system more comprehensive.
Under current law, for example, there is effectively a 72-hour time window for a background check to take place. When this time window has elapsed, an authorized dealer can complete a sale even if the FBI has not yet completed the background check.
“To me, I think it’s a huge problem, and a lot of people were hoping they would fix it,” Webster said.
Additionally, while some states have a licensing requirement in place for handgun buyers, there is no equivalent federal licensing mandate for buyers, which could put in place a longer vetting process. rigorous undertaking by law enforcement officers, as opposed to arms dealers.
“What we found in our research is that while comprehensive background checks are good and necessary for the system to work, to really have more impact on your regulatory process, you need a system. licensing,” Webster said. “We find that the licensing system is much more effective in reducing homicides, suicides, mass shootings, and even shootings involving law enforcement officers. It also prevents traffic.
Webster added, “We’re really the only high-income Western democracy that doesn’t have a licensing system for gun buyers — only the United States.”