This was a historic week for those who support strengthening our laws to prevent gun violence. On the 25th anniversary of the Brady Law going into effect, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation giving law enforcement officials more time to conduct background checks on gun purchasers. The day before, the House passed legislation extending mandatory background checks to sales at gun shows and other transactions, not just those by licensed dealers.
For the first time in decades, the House has done more than offer a moment of silence to honor the victims of gun violence. As the sponsors of the Enhanced Background Checks Act, which passed Thursday, we recognize these are small steps, but they are important steps.
Still, we’re far from victory: The president and Republicans in the Senate have already signaled their opposition to these bills, despite wide support from the public. More than 90 percent of Americans support background checks to keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people — the sole purpose of this bill. It’s time for Republicans to recognize that their opposition to common-sense gun reforms is out of step with the will of the public and enact these solutions.
We were gratified to have Jennifer Pinckney and her daughters, Malana and Eliana, seated in the balcony for this historic vote. They were left widowed and orphaned by the murder of their husband and father, Emanuel AME Church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who died alongside eight others as they finished a Bible study in 2015. The gunman selected the church to carry out his hate crime because of its historic significance to the African-American community.
This devastating massacre could have been prevented. The gunman acquired the weapon used in the shooting because of a fault in the law that is now known as the Charleston loophole. The gun purchase was subject to a background check; because of a glitch in the system, however, the background review took more than three days. Consequently, the gunman was sold the weapon, as allowed under the law, though it was later found that he was ineligible to purchase a gun. The failure resulted in horrific consequences.
In addition to this incident, the FBI has reported that in 2016 and 2017 alone, more than 9,000 guns were sold to people who otherwise would not clear the background check because of this loophole. And the law is particularly troubling when it comes to keeping guns out of the hands of convicted domestic abusers, which are more likely to take longer than denials for other criminal convictions. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that, while 70 percent of domestic violence denials can be determined through a background check in three days, 20 percent take between four and nine days. Between 2006 and 2015, extending the time for a background check has been difference of an estimated 12,000 denials.
Under the House-passed legislation, if law enforcement officials have not completed a background check at the end of 10 days, the purchaser can submit a petition for an expedited review. If it remains unresolved after an additional 10 days of expedited review, the sale may proceed.
This legislation affects only a small percentage of gun purchases. Today, 90 percent of background checks are completed within 90 seconds, and 96 percent are completed within three days. Our bill would allow law enforcement additional time to review the backgrounds of the other 4 percent.
Expanding the investigation period to give agents more time to fully investigate gun buyers is widely supported by Americans — including two-thirds of gun owners. It is supported by law enforcement agencies and will provide greater peace of mind to families who want to feel safe in their homes, on their streets and in their schools and places of worship.
This is not a partisan solution, and it will unquestionably save lives. It won’t fix every problem that contributes to the United States having a far higher rate of gun violence than every other developed country, but we should not sacrifice good legislation on the altar of perfection.
This is a common-sense solution that legislators across the aisle should be able to get behind. We ask the Senate to heed the will of the public and take up this legislation.
King, a Republican, represents New York in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Clyburn and Cunningham, both Democrats, represent South Carolina in the House of Representatives.