Victoria Armadillo, Sophomore of Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi
6300 Ocean Dr.
Corpus Christi, TX 78412
This essay will be discussing the background checks in Texas. There will be discussion of federal law and Texas laws and their involvements in regards to background checks when purchasing a firearm. The paper will also address problems located with these laws for background checks and provide possible solutions.
When thinking of Texas, the first things that come to mind are ten-gallon hats, rodeos, cowboys riding horses, and guns. It seems like anybody can get their hands on a gun, even children with the permission of an adult. Texas is a very “gun happy” state. It is not hard to obtain a gun in Texas. Guns can be obtained through licensed dealers with a background check to accompany the purchase, but guns can also be obtained through private dealers without the need for a background check. Background checks are designed to give insight of a person wishing to purchase a firearm to prevent those who do not meet the required standards from obtaining firearms. Background checks can be provided by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System or provided by the state, if the state opts to be a Point of Contact state and allow the use of state and federal records to conduct background checks. Texas, unfortunately, is not a Point of Contact state. Texas is too lenient with the concept of background checks when purchasing a firearm. Texas needs to become a Point of Contact state and require stricter, more insightful background checks for the sales of all firearms in Texas, including private sales.
On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot in the chest by a “deranged drifter named John Hinckley Jr” in an attempted assassination outside the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. (History.com Staff, 2009). President Reagan was walking with his entourage from the hotel’s entrance to enter his limousine parked in front of the building when Hinckley, who was waiting in a crowd of reporters, open fired on President Reagan. Hinckley shot off six bullets. One bullet struck Reagan and the three more injured three others attendants, one of which being White House Press Secretary James Brady who was struck in the head by the bullet. Brady was critically wounded and suffered permanent brain damage after the terrible incident. The horrible attempted assassination lead to James Brady becoming a strong advocate of gun control across America. In 1993, Congress passed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, more commonly known in short as the Brady Bill. The bill was named in honor of James Brady and required all states “to provide a waiting period before the purchase of a handgun, and for the establishment of a national instant criminal background check system to be contacted by firearms dealers before the transfer of any firearms” (103D Congress, 1993).
Though the Brady Bill also applies to Texas and provides a foundation for the prevention of gun violence through background checks, it alone is not sufficient enough to provide a secure, extensive premise for who can own a gun or not. Background checks in Texas need to become more strict and required when trading firearms. Firearms have always played a big part in America, so much so that it was included in the American Constitution under the Second Amendment, but to buy a firearm from a licensed dealer requires a background check of the purchaser. Thorough background checks that use both state and federal records should be required in Texas for all transferring of firearms to prevent possible threats and hazards of owning a firearm. Gun laws have been a topic of debate for centuries as anti-gun and gun supporters both argue as to what guns laws and regulation should be in place and how background checks should be conducted. Though the federal government requires a background check, it is left to the state to choose whether to be a Point of Contact state or not. For Texas to be a Point of Contact state would mean that Texas would be allowed to use federal and state records to conduct a background check, which is far more beneficial than the current status of not being a Point of Contact state and not using the extra information to conduct background checks.
Federal law trumps that of state law, meaning the Brady Bill is mandatory across all states, but the federal government allows for some leniency on the matter of how background checks are performed. The federal government permits for states to choose to be Point of Contact states or not. “Texas is not a Point of Contact state for the NICS”, thus only requiring a background check to be conducted at federal level by the FBI (Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 2015). Background checks of this caliber are not strict enough to be a good basis as to who is allowed a to purchase a gun. Background checks through only federal records can overlook important issues that may only carry to state level. Situations such as minor misdemeanors or cases of verbal assault do not reach federal courts and are not taken in consideration when running a potential firearms buyer’s name in Texas and can easily overlook very important red flags that can point out a person not suited to owning a gun. Background checks performed by the FBI alone can also result in a lack of overview. Most background checks performed by the FBI are as simple as a quick phone call by a licensed dealer when a person requests to purchase a firearm. This phone call takes, on average, less than a minute to conduct as an FBI agent runs the potential buyer’s name on a database system to see if they come up on a federal watch list. The lack of insightfulness of current standing procedures of background checks in Texas leads to the need for Texas to become a Point of Contact state as to provide more information for background checks when allowing the purchase of firearms in Texas to help prevent injury and gun violence.
Despite the Brady Bill requiring all states to perform a background check within a certain timespan, the Brady Bill only extends to licensed dealers and not unlicensed dealers. A loophole in the system is that there is only a specified time that the FBI has to perform the background check for the potential buyer. After the period of time indicated by the state, the firearm can be transferred over to the new owner whether the background check has been performed or not. In Texas, there is a three day grace to perform background checks, but it is only required for that of licensed dealers. Private sellers do not need to preform background checks before trading firearms. “Texas has no law requiring firearms dealers to initiate background checks prior to transferring a firearm”, only federal law requires background checks (Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 2015). Gun shows are very common in Texas as at least one show is held every month in a different location all around Texas. Gun shows are classified as private sellers, and thus do not require background checks. This lack of background checks can and has lead to case of gun violence. Gun violence has led to cases of school shootings, assassinations, and suicides. Such a case of gun violence stemming from the lack of background checks from private sells can be that of Micah Johnson and the Dallas shooting.
An ex-military man named Micah Johnson who got a hold of a gun through a private dealer caused the Dallas shooting of July 7, 2016. Colton Crews was the name of a man who was looking to sell an AK-47 that he owned to somebody else to make a little bit of money. Micah Johnson located Colton Crews through a private selling page on Facebook after Crews had posted about selling the gun. Though Crews originally thought that Johnson had no malintent and was a trustworthy citizen to own a firearm since he had once been part of the military and even fought in Afghanistan after checking trough his Facebook page, he later found he was mistaken. The two met in a parking lot of a Dallas Target where Crews exchanged the firearm for the price that was negotiated. A few months later, Micah Johnson participated a mass shooting that left five police officers dead and another seven civilians wounded during a Black Lives Matter protest. The trade off of the firearms through private dealers without true background checks being conducted is terrifyingly easy for a unsuited person to receive a firearm. These cases are very impacting to the idea of guns and who can handle them when there have been incidents such this and other cases such as the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, where twenty-six people died, twenty of which were students. Background checks have become a major factor as to who can be allowed guns for open and concealed carry by providing an insight to the character and mentality of citizens hoping to obtain guns. They need to be required even in private sells.
For Texas to become a Point of Contact state and require background checks would result in the amount of time it would take to process background checks to greatly increase. It would violate a person’s right to force background checks in private sales. Many argue for loose laws for gun permits in regards to the Second Amendment, as it an American citizen’s right to own a firearm, but do not take into account that the document was written for a different time compared to situations now. The Second Amendment states: “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” (The United States Constitution, 1791). During the time that the U.S. Constitution was written, American citizens had just won the Revolutionary War and needed to protect themselves from threats by the British, hostile Native American tribes, and the great wilderness that surrounded themselves. The Second Amendment also clearly states that its purpose was that for a Militia and not just a single citizen. Sales for firearms would also decrease greatly due to less people willing to go through all the requirements necessary to access a firearm and less people being accepted after stricter background checks, but this is not a downfall as those who wish to not go through the process or be accepted after the process probably do not need to own a gun anyways. Many also argue that people would get guns one way or another even if guns were harder to get, because of background checks, but this is why background checks need to be necessary in all aspects, including private sells to keep track of all guns being handled. The results of Texas becoming a Point of Contact state and requiring background checks for all trades of firearms would be far more. To preform more in-depth background checks would possibly open up more jobs for people to preform the checks. More in-depth background checks to be required in all sales of firearms would “prevent unnecessary gun violence” and better ensure that someone worthy is obtaining a firearm (Marc Cooper, 2016). The Brady Law requires for licensed dealers to preform background checks right now and firearm sales have increased over the years in Texas. Texas is a very gun happy state that would more than likely still sale plenty of firearms.
Texas is far too relaxed with the sales and purchases of firearms and need to require background checks in all firearm trades. The Brady Bill is a highly educated and very much needed bill that was passed by Congress to prevent gun violence through the requirement of background checks. Background checks are very important in the trading of firearms, because it gives understanding of the character of a person wishing to buy a firearm. Not everybody is suited to own a firearm and every dealer should be aware of who they are selling a firearm to, including private sellers. To change the ongoing situation in Texas, contact local government officials to tell them to change laws and perceptions of what is to be required of background checks in Texas and the information that is used to perform them. Those who seek change in these can join local Texas groups and movement, as well as elect officials that seek change for Texas to become a Point of Contact state and require background checks for private sells and alongside those of sells from licensed dealers.
103D Congress. Brady handgun violence prevention act. H. R. 1025. 103-344. 1993.
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Constitution, The United States. Second amendment. Congress. 1791.
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