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Gun background checks should be universal

Letter to the Editor

The Nov. 11 letter to the editor titled “Universal background checks don’t stop crime” is misleading and leaves out critical information that Altoona Mirror readers deserve to know.

While the author cites cherry-picked studies to support his argument, he fails to acknowledge the large body of academic research that clearly shows how background checks reduce violent crime and illegal firearm trafficking, including a 2019 analysis by scholars with the Rockefeller Institute, a 2013 Harvard study and a 2009 Johns Hopkins study.

One can always dig up dueling studies, so rather, let’s spend more time here discussing hard and simple facts and common sense.

The Pennsylvania State Police, which operates the commonwealth’s firearm background check system, recently released their quarterly report.

The report’s data undermines the author’s misleading claims and confirms what common sense has always told us: background checks work at preventing guns from getting into the wrong hands.

The third quarter of 2021 saw 303,156 background checks conducted across the commonwealth.

Of those, 1,465 individuals failed the background check, were denied a purchase, and were rightly referred to law enforcement for trying to buy a gun while classified as a prohibited purchaser.

The most common reasons one is considered a prohibited purchaser are because of a violent felony conviction or an involuntary mental health commitment on one’s record. Thirty-four of these individuals were arrested at the point of purchase due to having an active warrant for their arrest.

All these numbers tell a simple story: taking a few minutes at the point of sale to check a prospective firearm purchaser’s background for a history of criminality or mental illness is an effective way to protect public safety. The problem is that this process does not apply to all firearm sales in Pennsylvania. Long guns such as AR-15s can be purchased privately without any background checks, while these very same weapons require background checks if bought from a licensed dealer.

This gap in the law makes it easy for would-be mass shooters and criminals to obtain weapons of war.

We must close this gap and make background checks universal for all firearm sales by passing Senate Bill 88/House Bill 235 into law.

Josh Fleitman

Pittsburgh

(The author is the Western Pennsylvania Manager for CeaseFirePA, a gun violence prevention advocacy organization.)

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