Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, surprised Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace on Sunday by claiming that universal background checks on gun purchases are a waste of time and provides a "‘false"’ sense of security. He proposed, instead saying that legislators should focus on eliminating gun-free zones in schools and other areas.
Wallace was visibly surprised, pointing out that approximately 40% of gun sales happen without any screening. While federally licensed gun dealers are required to conduct background checks on gun purchasers to prevent dangerous persons, such as felons and the mentally ill, from gaining access to firearms. More than 6 million gun sales are unscreened – those from gun transfers, "“private"” sellers, and purchases at gun shows or made online do not fall under the requirement, a hole in the law often referred to as the "“Gun Show Loophole."
Here's the actual exchange:
WALLACE: "“So, let’s talk about universal background checks, because, I was surprised to find out…[that] in 40% of the sales there is no such screen on the person buying the gun. What is wrong with universal background checks?"”
PRATT: "It is false security to think somehow we'll spot problems when there's really no way to spot these problems. Some of the most horrendous of the mass murders that have occurred recently including the one in Newtown would not have been stopped by a background check … And, so, to assume that this is going to be our firewall against …"
WALLACE: "I don't think anybody is saying that it is a firewall. What is wrong with the idea, if you get a gun whether you buy from a registered dealer or a private sale, that you have to go through background checks just in case, to find out whether somebody has one or has a mental health problem?"
PRATT: "We are wasting our time and going in that direction when we should be talking about doing away with the gun-free zones which have been so convenient, such a magnet to those who would come and slaughter lots of people knowing no one will be legally able to defend themselves in these zones."
Of course background checks are not a waste of time. That is why 94% of police chiefs, 87% of Americans, and 74% of NRA members support requiring a criminal background check of anyone purchasing a gun.
And, of course, this debate is supposedly about the safety of our students from rampage killers. So why not ask them? A staggering 92% of high school students support criminal background checks.
Finally, Pratt's position – to increase the number of guns in circulation – makes no sense without a plan to make sure the guns being provided are well-regulated and not being placed in the hands of criminals, people with severe mental health problems, undocumented persons, drug addicts or anyone else who shouldn't have access to a gun. His proposals only make sense in the context of swelling gun sales.
Background checks are supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans, including gun owners. There are plenty of indications that some Republicans also support them. See Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), rated A+ by the NRA, who commented Friday that he was open to revisions of background check laws. "You know, you're buying a used weapon from somebody and then basically no background check," he said, noting that with current technology it would not be hard to run such a check using a smartphone.
As Pratt takes a hard-line position on background checks, he should be wary not to discredit himself or the gun lobby. Other gun advocates have tread on risky territory lately; on Friday, Tactical Response CEO James Yeager showed no tact in his response to proposed gun control measures by yelling, "if it goes one inch further, I'm going to start killing people." Gun Appreciation Day chairman Larry Ward suggested on Friday's CNN Newsroom that if African Americans were armed, "perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history." And finally, talk show host and conspiracist Alex Jones "hysterically screamed at and patronizingly mocked" pro-gun-control CNN host Piers Morgan, possibly damaging the gun rights lobby.