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How do gun background checks work? A look at the current system

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In the wake of the mass shooting at a Florida high school earlier this month, President Trump is seemingly open to strengthening federal background checks for gun purchases.

“While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Sunday.

Sanders said the president has spoken to Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, about a bill to “improve federal compliance with criminal background check legislation.”

Trump has said on social media he wants to “be strongly pushing comprehensive background checks with an emphasis on Mental Health.” He’s also said tackling background checks is an issue that needs both Republican and Democratic support.

During an emotional listening session at the White House this week with parents and students impacted by school violence, Trump promised to be “very strong on background checks.”

Here’s a look at how the federal background check system currently works, and what experts and activists have to say about it. 

What happens when you want to purchase a gun?

In order to purchase a gun from a federal firearms licensed dealer (FFL), a consumer must provide identification and pass a federal background check using the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ 4473 form.

The first page of the document requires basic information, including the buyer’s full name, address, sex, birthday and ethnicity. A Social Security number is encouraged, but not required.

The form also asks the buyer about criminal background, immigration status and mental health — information that could result in a consumer being denied. Those questions include:

  • Have you ever been convicted in any court of a felony, or any other crime for which the judge could have imprisoned you for more than one year, even if you received a shorter sentence including probation?
  • Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug or any other controlled substance?
  • Have you been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions?
  • Have you ever been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence?

Lying on the federal form is a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, an ATF spokesperson confirmed to Fox News. That penalty is also listed at the top of the form.

Once the form is completed, the dealer will submit it to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) online or by phone. Then, almost immediately, the licensed seller will know how to continue with the sale:

  • Proceed: If NICS indicates the seller can proceed, then the sale can continue.
  • Canceled or Denied: Should NICS mark the form as “canceled” or “denied,” the seller cannot legally sell the firearm to the buyer. Michael Smith, the vice president of marketing and media for Upstate Armory Group, a firearm dealer in Simpsonville, S.C., told Fox News he generally provides the customer with contact information for a local lawyer who handles restoration of firearm rights in case the failed background check is erroneous. There have been times police have arrived at the gun shop to arrest the customer who legally cannot purchase a gun, Smith said.
  • Delayed: If the background check elicits a “delayed” response from NICS, the seller cannot complete the transaction for at least three business days. Unless a specific “denied” designation is issued, the seller will be able to complete the transaction with the customer after that period elapses, under federal law.

Even before a 4473 form is filled out, Robbie Wheaton, vice president of the Wheaton Arms Inc. gun shop in Piedmont, S.C., said he takes note of the customer. If a customer seems to be intoxicated or “shady” – talking, for instance, about a cheating spouse – dealers don’t have to sell that person a gun.

“A shop has a final right to say ‘no’ based on a person’s behavior whether they will sell a firearm to them or not.”

– Robbie Wheaton, vice president of Wheaton Arms Inc. in South Carolina

“As a federal firearms licensee, we have the right to be able to refuse the transfer of firearms to someone,” Wheaton told Fox News. “A shop has a final right to say ‘no’ based on a person’s behavior whether they will sell a firearm to them or not.”

Smith praised the background check system, as it can flag other discrepancies for sellers, such as an age issue.

South Carolina law, for example, prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from purchasing a long gun (such as an AR-15) and anyone under 21 from buying a pistol, handgun or other firearm, he said. The background check can prevent sellers, particularly at hectic gun shows, from accidentally selling a firearm to someone who isn’t of age, Smith said.

Why do I have to complete the background check?

Thanks to the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, the FBI created the NICS in 1998. The system is supposed to instantaneously let a firearms dealer know whether a buyer is legally allowed to purchase the gun.

According to the FBI, more than 230 million checks have been made by cashiers prior to a purchase and more than 1.3 million denials have been issued since the system was put in place.

Is this process the same in every state?

No.

In South Carolina, for example, consumers who already have a concealed weapons permit do not need to go through a background check in order to purchase a firearm in the state, multiple dealers in the Palmetto State told Fox News.

Also, state laws may be superseded by federal law. The 4473 form asks consumers about marijuana use. Those who use the drug, in states where recreational or medicinal use is legal, will be denied a firearm, Wheaton said.

In Hawaii, after the first legal medicinal marijuana dispensary opened in the state in 2017, local law enforcement agencies asked users who are also gun owners to turn in their firearms within 30 days, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Is this system strong enough?

It depends on who you ask.

Jonas Oransky, the deputy legal director of Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for stronger gun control, praised the background check system but said it has “significant gaps.”

Specifically, Oransky’s organization points to a “private sale loophole.” Federal law requires licensed dealers to complete background checks, but people can also purchase guns from a private seller – such as a friend or through online classifieds websites like ArmsList.com. (ArmsList.com prompts users to “accept” a terms of use document, which acknowledges the website doesn’t certify or investigate transactions and instructs users not to use the site for “illegal purposes.”)

“It doesn’t matter necessarily if people are selling at scale,” Oransky told Fox News. “It’s not that all sellers are dangerous or devious, but buyers who know that they can skip the background check can look for an unlicensed seller.”

Wheaton, who has been in the firearms business full time since 2007, said he and other licensed sellers try to persuade customers to transfer guns through a licensed dealer so a background check can be conducted.

Oransky also pointed to the so-called “Charleston loophole,” which allows dealers to sell guns to a customer before a background check is completed – when NICS marks a document “delayed” but does not approve or deny it within three business days. He said a disproportionate number of buyers who obtain a gun before a background check is completed are domestic abusers, citing complex records and restraining orders that investigators need additional time to read through or discuss with the appropriate local law enforcement agency.

“The FBI should have the time they need to complete a background check. It’s more important than expediting sales to people who shouldn’t have a gun,” he said.

On the other hand, Second Amendment advocates argue that the background check system already does too much.

“We don’t think it’s proper for people to have to prove their innocence to the government in order to exercise their God-given right,” Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, a Virginia-based gun rights nonprofit, told Fox News.

“Our rights are listed in the Bill of Rights for a reason,” he continued. “People’s rights are being infringed upon and it’s resulting – in some cases – in death and in other cases extreme inconvenience in being able to purchase firearms.”

Pratt also said the background check system doesn’t do its job, as several of the more recent mass shooters in the U.S., including the suspect in the fatal shooting of 17 people in Parkland, Fla., were able to pass background checks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @K_Schallhorn.



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Scots should NOT get an independence referendum, say Britons

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MICHAEL GOVE said it is not the right time for Scotland to ask for an independence vote, and Express.co.uk readers agree.

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'Brexit cost a lot of jobs!' Ken Livingstone slams Farage in big debate 'Still a remoaner'

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FORMER London Mayer Ken Livingston insisted Brexit “has cost jobs” as he squabbled with Nigel Farage over Brexit before demanding the British government invest in jobs for British people.

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In Ohio GOP race, local and national politics square off

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WASHINGTON — Is all politics now national?

Or is some of it still local when it comes to congressional races?

We’ll get an answer from today’s GOP special primary in Ohio’s 15th Congressional District to replace Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, who resigned his seat back in April to run Ohio’s chamber of commerce.

Donald Trump has definitely helped nationalize the contest by endorsing coal lobbyist Mike Carey, and a pro-Trump Super PAC is airing this ad for him: “This August 3rd, vote for the only Trump-endorsed, America-First conservative — Mike Carey for Congress.”

On the other hand, Stivers has endorsed his hand-picked successor, state Rep. Jeff LaRe, and the ex-congressman has been running this TV ad: “I’m proud to support Jeff LaRe for Congress. Jeff LaRe is a former law enforcement officer and a strong conservative leader who has fought to make our communities safer.”

So much attention on this Ohio-15 special has been on whether a Trump-backed candidate could lose another race — after last week’s defeat of the Trump-endorsed Susan Wright in Texas.

But is a more important issue here whether local politics can still trump national politics?

After all, the candidate who defeated Wright down in Texas — Jake Ellzey — was a state representative with endorsements from Rick Perry, Joe Barton and Dan Crenshaw.

Now today’s other Ohio special primary election — in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District between Nina Turner and Shontel Brown — is fully nationalized, with it being the latest battle in the Bernie-Dem Establishment War.

But also pay attention to Ohio-15 to see if local politics and local endorsements still matter.

Looking at the ad spending in Ohio

Today’s high-profile special primary elections have made for busy airwaves outside of Cleveland and Columbus.

In the Dems’ 11th District contest, Turner and Brown (plus their outside backers) have gone virtually punch-for-punch in the ad war. Turner has spent $2.3 million on TV, radio and digital advertising through Tuesday, per AdImpact, with her aligned Democratic Action PAC adding another $250,000. That’s matched by the Brown campaign’s $1.3 million on ads, plus an additional $1.1 million chipped in by the Democratic Majority for Israel PAC.

Things are even more crowded among the Republicans in the 15th District contest. The top spenders are businessman Tom Hwang, a self-funder running as an outsider, and the Protect Freedom PAC, which is backing Ron Hood, the state representative backed by Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul. Both have spent just over $480,000 on advertisements.

Former Rep. Steve Stivers, who has endorsed Jeff LaRe, has actually spent more on ads than any other candidate besides Hwang, with $344,000. Then the Trump-aligned Make America Great Again PAC has spent $305,000 in support of the candidate Trump has endorsed, lobbyist Mike Carey, with Carey’s campaign spending another $265,000. State Sen. Bob Peterson has spent $265,000, the anti-Carey Conservative Outsider PAC has spent another $241,000, LaRe’s campaign has spent $180,000, and former Columbus NAACP President Ruth Edmonds has spent $107,000.

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Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

35: The average number of new, daily pediatric Covid-19 hospitalizations over the last week in Florida.

11 hours: How long New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced questions for from the state’s Attorney General’s office during a harassment probe.

110 million: The amount of Covid vaccines the U.S. government has shipped to 65 other countries, per the Wall Street Journal.

35,202,585: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 168,435 more than yesterday morning.)

617,258: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News.

346,924,345: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 467,676 since yesterday morning.)

49.7 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

60.6 percent: The share of all American adults at least 18 years of age who are fully vaccinated, per CDC.

70 percent: The share of all American adults at least 18 years of age who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, per the CDC, a mark which President Biden had hoped America would hit by the July 4 holiday.

Talking policy with Benjy: Inflated fears of inflation?

A $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure deal. A $3.5 trillion budget plan. And Republicans are confident they have their top counterargument already lined up: It will all raise prices.

Inflation, after all, is up significantly in 2021. The Fed believes it’s mostly temporary, caused by pandemic-specific disruptions like a computer chip shortage that’s sending car prices soaring. So far, the markets mostly agree with them, but critics argue the economy is overheating from too much stimulus spending.

But there are several important factors that could mitigate inflation risk from the $4 trillion in proposed new spending, NBC’s Benjy Sarlin reports.

First of all, it’s going to be spent much more slowly than the Covid relief bills, over a period of 10 years rather than as immediate relief. Second, unlike Covid spending, Democrats plan to offset the cost by raising taxes on businesses and wealthy individuals. Third, spending on items like better roads, cheaper power and easier commutes could make the economy more productive and thus better able to handle increased demand.

“If the bill is fully paid for, then to a first approximation it would have no impact on inflation,” Jason Furman, a top economic adviser in the Obama administration, told NBC News. “Moreover, if it expanded supply (through infrastructure, more parents working because of childcare, etc.) it might put some downward pressure on inflation.”

Furman is more worried than many of his peers about rising prices, but says little of that has to do with the spending plans, which he calls a “red herring” in the inflation debate that could be checked with higher interest rates if needed

Inflation hawks worry the spending offsets won’t materialize and that the boost to productivity won’t be enough to justify the total spending. The bipartisan infrastructure plan relies on some shaky budget math and the Democratic plan might make its numbers work by funding some features, like the child tax credit, for shorter lengths with the expectation they’ll be extended. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates this would boost the cost from $3.5 trillion to over $5 trillion, which may or may not be offset.

“There is a high probability that there won’t be enough taxes collected,” Sung Won Sohn, an economist at Loyola Marymount University, said. “Historically, every president has promised to pay for tax cuts or spending increases, but that never happened.”

The biggest fear is that if inflation goes on too long, people will begin to expect more inflation, creating a kind of self-perpetuating cycle in which businesses raise prices and workers keep bargaining for higher wages in order to get ahead of it.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

It’s been two years since the massacre in El Paso.

Some public health experts are questioning the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s analysis that led to new masking guidelines.

The GOP chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors rejected a new subpoena, calling the GOP-led “election audit” an ‘adventure in never-never land.’

The National Labor Relations Board has determined that Amazon violated labor law after workers at its Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse tried to join a union, according to the union.

The Associated Press reports that unaccompanied minors stopped at the U.S-Mexico border by immigration officials hit an all-time high in July.

Axios reports that President Biden and his chief of staff don’t believe pressuring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to retire would be productive.

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