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Universal Background Checks

Definition and Purpose

Universal background checks on gun sales and transfers requires almost all firearms transactions in the United States to be recorded and go through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, closing the private sale exemption. Under current federal law all licensed firearm dealers must run a background check on customers to screen for a criminal history or severe mental illness. This law, however, does not apply to private or unlicensed dealers. Currently, private firearm sales and transfers do not require any background checks in 38 states. Proponents argue universal background checks could prevent unfit individuals from accessing guns and thus decrease gun violence and death.

Sources: Vox, National Review

A Brief History

Universal background checks on all gun sales and transfers of ownership exist in several countries including the U.K and Australia, but U.S. federal legislation has not passed any bill on the topic into law. Currently California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia require universal background checks at the point of sale for all sales and transfers of all classes of firearms.

Sources: The New York Times, Council on Foreign Relations 

Varying Viewpoints 

For Universal Background Checks

Prevent suicide

Decrease domestic violence and homicide 

Decrease law enforcement deaths

Combat drug cartels

  • Gun trades don’t only impact gun availability in the US. The Washington Post writes in 2016, between 2009 and 2014, 70 percent of crime guns recovered and traced in Mexico originated from within the US. They note that these weapons are often purchased legally in the US, particularly through private sales.

Ineffective at saving lives

  • Several states have already implemented universal background checks. They have shown no evidence of reducing crime. According to a 2013 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)  Uniform Crime Report, after instituting universal background checks in 2013, Delaware’s homicide rate increased from 4.4 per 1,000 to 5.8 per 1,000 in 2014. Washington also faced an increase from 2.4 per 1000 to 2.5. During this time, the national average remained constant at 2.4.

Against Universal Background Checks

Fail to keep guns out of criminal hands

  • According to a 2001 Department of Justice study, 78.8 percent of criminals do not purchase their guns from retail stores. The study found, 39.6 percent of criminals buy their guns from friends or family while another 39.2 percent buy guns from the street or other illegal means. 
  • Universal background checks lack the ability to ensure transfers of ownership from friends and family will be meaningfully addressed. This means universal background checks do little to impact these sales. 

Violate the Fifth Amendment

  • The Fifth Amendment guarantees that “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury.” 
  • As former New Jersey Superior Court Judge Andrew Napolitano stated in 2016, “Background checks compel people to speak and provide information about themselves in order to obtain a gun.”
  • Napolitano went on to state the background checks can be considered an infringement of self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment because gun purchasers are required to provide evidence against themselves in order to obtain a gun.

Recent Events and Reformation


  • Michigan State Senator Rosemary Bayer  and Representative Jon Hoadley introduced Senate Bills 678-680 and House Bills 5275-5277, Dec. 5. These bills proposed universal background checks on all gun sales and transfers of ownership in Michigan.


Public Opinion 

An estimated 90 percent of the American public supports some kind of background checks for all gun sales.

Source: Giffords Law Center

Should there be universal background checks?

"I think that there should be background checks in order to own firearms because I believe that would provide a good balance between the right to bear arms and safety of the community. Background checks still allow people to buy guns which makes sure that their right to bear arms is protected but also allows others to feel safe as they know that the buyer has been checked before they’re allowed to get the guns. I personally don’t see why they shouldn’t be implemented as all it does is filter out those who are a danger to the community and definitely shouldn’t have guns while allowing everyone else to have them." Yogev Angelovici, 9. Photo by Ana Manzano. "I don't want criminals to have guns, and I don’t want people with mental illnesses to be able to have guns, and background checks can prevent that." Natalie Peng, 12. Photo by Ana Manzano."Yes I think that there should be universal background checks for firearms. This is not an infringement on anyone’s rights, and will make the sell of legal firearms more secure. I know that even if we regulate all of the legal sales, we will never stop people who aren’t supposed to have guns from having them, but this is a step in the right direction. Giving up just a little more time when buying a gun to make sure that it’s ok is a necessary thing we need to give up, regardless of if it’s only mildly effective. This should be bi-partisan as it does not affect people who already own them as well as doesn’t affect people who should legally have a gun" Josh Froidl, 11. Photo by Ana Manzano. "My thoughts on gun control can be scattered and I don't really recall being apart of a specific party when it comes to politics. Still, I think running background checks on suspect individuals if they want to purchase a weapon that can be used in a hostile way." Megh Patel, 11. Photo by Ana Manzano.
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