Alexandria and Mount Vernon: Keeping Guns from Criminals

Alexandria and Mount Vernon: Keeping Guns from Criminals

Focusing on private gun sales.

What are you going to do about gun safety and gun violence?

These were words I heard over and over again from constituents last year when I first ran for Congress.

They couldn’t understand why in the world I would want to be part of a Congress they largely viewed as dysfunctional. And the next words out of their mouth would be an impassioned plea, dysfunction be damned, to reach across party lines and find a compromise — any incremental step — that would begin to make our society safer from horrific shootings.

Last month I introduced legislation that would take one step forward.

A retail gun shop today is prohibited from selling a firearm to a felon, a domestic violence misdemeanants, someone on the terrorist watch list, or other prohibited persons. But an individual who wants to sell a firearm is under no obligation to determine whether or not the buyer is in such a category.

Under the current, toothless law, a prosecutor has to prove that a seller knew the buyer was prohibited from buying a gun in order to successfully prosecute. Since private gun sales in most states don’t require a background check, private sellers are able to claim ignorance. As a result, this law is prosecuted only about 75 times per year nationwide. It is time to make sellers bear more responsibility for our collective safety.

The Keeping Guns from Criminals Act would remove this “knowingly” standard, making the sale of a gun to a prohibited buyer a strict liability: This is a crime, and the onus is on the seller to know whether the buyer is in the prohibited class of customers.

No doubt one of the arguments against the bill will be a complaint that it places an onerous burden on the seller. But consider this: That seller and prospective buyer need only go to a Federal Firearm Licensee who provides this private party transfer with background check, usually for a nominal fee of about $30. And there are 130,000 Federal Firearm Licensees in the United States: That is roughly nine times as many McDonalds as there are in our nation.

We must find reasonable compromises so that we can keep guns out of the hands of the most dangerous among us. It is time to try again.