Oregon lawmakers this week passed a measure that will expand background check requirements to cover nearly every gun buyer in the state, including in the private and online sale of firearms.
From the bill, the Oregon Firearms Safety Act:
[The bill] requires private person to complete transfer of firearm by appearing with transferee before gun dealer to request criminal background check. Specifies exceptions for family members, law enforcement, inherited firearms and certain temporary transfers.
The measure, which Democratic Gov. Kate Brown is expected to sign, closes existing loopholes so that a person purchasing a gun on Craigslist or from a neighbor would be subject to the same checks as someone buying from a gun shop or a gun show. It's not an insignificant fix: a recent report from Everytown for Gun Safety tested current gaps in the law by posting 17 online gun ads. The ads received 11 responses from people who were legally prohibited from purchasing firearms, including two people convicted of domestic abuse.
The Oregon Firearms Safety Act would require the buyer and seller in such a transaction to appear before a licensed gun dealer for appropriate screening. According to independent polling released by gun safety group Moms Demand Action, more than 80 percent of Oregonians support the measure. Nationally, more than 90 percent of gun owners support universal background checks and an overwhelming majority of Americans view them as common sense public safety measures.
All in all, it’s a pretty uncontroversial measure. So of course state Republicans and the NRA are acting as though the sky has fallen.
"This law is unjust and will create a black market in private party firearm sales, making it harder for law enforcement to do its job in investigating firearms-related crimes," according to a statement released by the Oregon GOP.
An NRA alert from earlier this month urged gun owners to “contact their state Representative with strong opposition to this bill,” because it would “require individuals to appear before a gun dealer to request a criminal background check prior to privately transferring a firearm, absent limited exceptions. Transfers include, but are not limited to, sales, gifts, loans and leases. Failure to comply with this mandate could result in stiff penalties and possible loss of an individual’s Right to Keep and Bear Arms.”
If you're not sure why "require individuals to appear before a gun dealer" is such a threatening prospect, you're not alone. And while conservatives have only weakly justified their panic over the measure, research on background checks shows that measures like what just passed in Oregon save lives.
A study released last year by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research found that the 2007 repeal of a Missouri law requiring all handgun buyers to prove they passed a background check was associated with a 14 percent increase in the state’s murder rate. The study found that the murder rate increased despite controls for “changes in policing, incarceration, burglaries, unemployment, poverty, and other state laws adopted during the study period that could affect violent crime.
"This study provides compelling confirmation that weaknesses in firearm laws lead to deaths from gun violence," Daniel Webster, director of the research center and a lead author on the study said in a statement. "There is strong evidence to support the idea that the repeal of Missouri's handgun purchaser licensing law contributed to dozens of additional murders in Missouri each year since the law was changed."
Other studies have shown that background checks are effective at keeping guns out of the hands of people convicted of domestic violence. The number of women murdered by intimate partners in states with universal background checks is 38 percent lower than in states without such protections.
The correlation between women and guns in a deadly one. Women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a firearm than women in other high-income countries. The presence of a gun during a domestic violence incident increases the likelihood of a homicide by 500 percent. And a Harvard School of Public Health study from 2000 concluded that “hostile gun displays against family members may be more common than gun use in self-defense, and that hostile gun displays are often acts of domestic violence directed against women.”
Judging from the data we have, the "threat" of tighter background checks has nothing on the actual, deadly threat of unfettered access to firearms. So while the NRA may be stoking fear about requiring most gun buyers to face screening, public health researchers like Deborah Azrael are far more clear-eyed about the danger, as she told me earlier this year: "What we know is where there are more guns, more women die. That’s just incontrovertibly true.”