One of the ideas proposed with the new gun control legislation is mandatory "universal" background checks required for all gun sales. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is the database checked during gun purchases to ensure individuals such as felons and the mentally ill aren't allowed to purchase guns. In theory, requiring a check for each firearm purchase would clamp down on guns getting into the wrong hands.
There are a few problems with this idea. The system is woefully inadequate, underfunded, lacking in up-to-date or accurate state-reported felony and mental illness data, and doesn't address the core root problem of criminals getting guns via illegal trafficking or straw man purchases.
1. NICS, the background check system, is not fully funded:
During the Obama administration, Congress has failed to provide the necessary funding for NICS. Despite Congress passing the NICS Improvement Amendments Act in 2007, many states have made little or no progress reporting felony and mental illness data to NICS. This is largely because Congress has not fully funded NICS or provided correct incentives for states to do so. Congress actually appropriated just 5.3% of the total authorized amount in fiscal years 2009, 2010, and 2011.
2. Many states do not report data to NICS:
Many states do not report, or grossly under-report, felony and mental health information to NICS. In fact, 19 states have provided fewer than 100 records of individuals disqualified on mental health grounds since the implementation of NICS in the early 1990s. For instance, Maryland has only submitted 58 mental health records to the NICS database since 1999. Failing to report this data has allowed several mentally ill people to commit mass shooting murders, such as the shooters at both Arizona and Aurora, Colorado.
3. The Justice Department doesn't prosecute background check fraud:
The Obama administration's Justice Department is also not strongly enforcing prosecutions of people who falsify information on their gun background checks. The FBI reported 71,000 instances of people lying on their background checks to buy guns in 2009, but the Justice Department prosecuted a mere 77 cases, or a fraction of 1%.
4. NICS doesn't address illegal gun trafficking:
Advocating universal background checks may leave the uninformed with the impression that this measure would solve the issue of criminals obtaining guns; it doesn't. According to a 2001 Department of Justice study, 78.8% of criminals get their guns from sources outside of retail store purchases. 39.6% get guns from friends or family while another 39.2% get guns from the street or other illegal means. Universal background checks don't address illegal trafficking.
Trafficking has been a huge problem in Australia and in the UK since their respective gun bans. Here in the United States, we have serious issues with border security. The FBI states gangs - which boast 1.2 million active members as of 2011 - engage in illegal guns trafficking, as well as narcotics. Universal background checks for purchases could easily be circumvented through illegal trafficking. This is not to say that legal purchases shouldn't have a check, but to demonstrate that this measure doesn't solve illegal gun possession.
5. Universal checks don't satisfactorily address straw man purchases:
Another issue unaddressed by universal background checks is the straw man purchase, the act of illegally acquiring a firearm through a third party. The ATF defines straw man as using another person to acquire a firearm when the end user is specifically prohibited from acquiring the firearm. "That is to say, the actual purchaser is a felon or is within one of the other prohibited categories of persons who may not lawfully acquire firearms." The straw purchaser violates federal law by making false statements on Form 4473.
Criminals could circumvent universal checks by having another person with a "clean" record purchase the gun for them. This is already illegal, but that doesn't stop it. Criminals could also borrow, buy, or otherwise take illegal possession of a gun, even if the gun wasn't originally purchased with straw man intent. There is no logical, credible reason why universal checks would be any more effective in stopping either already illegal activity. Combine this with the fact the Justice Department doesn't prosecute referred fraud cases, and it's a loser solution to stopping guns from getting into the the wrong hands.
6. Universal checks doesn't prevent acquiring guns through theft:
The Sandy Hook Elementary shooter killed his mom and stole her guns. Police have been targeted for gun theft - both from their homes and from their vehicles. The FBI also reports that organized gangs have stolen weapons from the military. Even safes can be cracked or if not bolted down, removed and later cracked. Home invaders can steal weapons right out of houses, even when the occupant is inside. No system can prevent the wrong people from acquiring guns in this manner.