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Gun debate 101: Time for 'universal' background checks on buyers?

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A number is hard to come by. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which has spearheaded the drive for tougher gun laws, says at least 40 percent of firearms are acquired without background checks, citing a 1996 study done for the Police Foundation.

Who favors universal background checks, and why?

Gun control activists say it’s ludicrous to exempt some gun buyers from criminal background checks, and that public safety and common sense demand redress, preferably by a federal law. Absent federal action, they are pushing states to require unlicensed gun sellers at gun shows to run background checks on prospective buyers.

Private sales, especially at gun shows, are a chief way that criminals and other dangerous individuals get their hands on firearms, they argue. Criminals themselves may not necessarily buy at gun shows, but the folks they buy firearms from do, the argument goes. Being able to track a gun’s ownership is vital to identifying the traffickers who sell to criminals.

Besides the Brady Campaign and other gun-control advocacy groups, groups backing the idea of broadening background checks include the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the 700-strong Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

There are some signs that broadened background checks may be able to win political support from some moderate Second Amendment supporters. Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association and one of those who met with Mr. Biden, wrote Thursday on the group’s website in a plea for public civility, “Let’s agree to require the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) at gun shows.”  

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