Gun Control Laws: Mandatory Background Checks Are Back On the Table

Gun control has yet to take the back seat on the White House agenda — especially where background checks are involved.

Vice President Joe Biden will be hosting a gun control event on Tuesday for the purpose of reviving legislation on the issue. Biden is slated to speak on the progress of anti-gun initiatives headed by the executive. In doing so, he will be reworking gun policy back into the administration's political conversation.

In April, the U.S. Senate rejected a bill that would have extended background checks. So, accompanying Biden's attempt to rebirth the movement is a sense of persistence and, perhaps, unwarranted optimism.

After the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, President Barack Obama launched 23 directives targeted at lowering gun violence. According to a senior official prefacing Biden's remarks, the administration has "completely" enforced or "made significant progress" on 21 of 23 initiatives that the president charted during his speech to Congress in January. But, with the death of the bill in Congress, a pass on background checks has proven to be a larger hurdle than Biden may have expected. 

And to make things more complicated, much of the data that the progress is measured by is difficult to interpret.

For example, even before Obama's initiatives, nearly 19.6 million background checks were requested in 2012, up by about 3 million from 2011. The number of firearms sold is not reflected in that number, so this may just be an indication of more firearms bought, rather than heightened security. Furthermore, private sales among individuals pass unchecked, and right now only California, Colorado, Illinois, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island require background checks at gun shows.

It isn't any wonder, then, that the Obama administration is pursuing gun control through primarily executive action — it's quicker and more decisive. Yet is this how we should go about doing it? Even the senior official stated, "These unilateral executive actions are in no way a replacement for concrete legislative action which is why we're engaged in so many conversations with members of Congress."

There's no doubt going through Congress could be a more representative way to accomplish gun reform — after all, if there's any issue that varies from constituency to constituency, it's gun control. But dealing with Congress might squash any, if not all, of Biden's chance to clear the background check hurdle. Nonetheless, the official continued by stating the administration’s desire to have "actual legislation that will tighten and strengthen background checks."

Whether or not that "actual legislation" will come to fruition is a question that remains unanswered.

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Ranissa Adityavarman

Ranissa currently studies International Relations and Economics at Colgate University. She resides in Central New York.

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