Background Checks


If mandatory background checks are going to be required with the sale of all firearms, one can’t help but wonder what sort of check will be required.  As nearly everybody in the background or court records checking business knows, there is no such thing as a complete nationwide database of everyone who has ever been convicted of a crime.  So, what database will be used?  The problem is there is no requirement on the various court systems or law enforcement agencies in this country to report every conviction to a centralized database.  Besides that, there are different sorts of databases in every state.  In Indiana, for example, there’s the Indiana State Police database, which, admittedly, is only about 35 percent to 40 percent complete.  Why?  Because court clerks at the county level are not required by law to send in every conviction from their respective counties.  And even if they were, there would still be the question of whether or not they would be required to send in both felony and misdemeanor convictions!

There are other multi-state databases available, but they are only as complete and accurate as the source of the data they receive.  At the federal level there is the widely known NCIC database, but its intended purpose is to collect information on arrests, not the disposition of those arrests – that’s not what it was created to do.  So, one is left with the perplexing question of what sort of database will be used to check out purchasers of firearms, if that should become a mandatory requirement of all gun sales?

The best way to do it would be using the multi-state database of convictions, combined with a county-specific court check.  But even doing both is going to produce an imperfect result.  If the goal is to prevent the sale of firearms to anyone convicted of a violent crime, then there needs to be a realization that, given the state of existing collected data, it really can’t be done effectively.  There are simply too many gaps in the system to be able to contend that a true nationwide criminal conviction database search can be carried out before the sale of every firearm in every state.  In addition, there are simply too many ways around any background checking requirement.  All that’s required is for someone with no criminal history at all to make the purchase and for that person to give, sell, or barter with a convicted criminal without the knowledge of any law enforcement agency.  Furthermore, even for a convicted felon who wants to purchase a firearm, in most instances all that will be required to do it, court check or not, is simply to go to another county or state and make the purchase.  In most instances there will be no record of a criminal conviction in the neighboring state because of the lack of a truly up-to-date national database that covers all fifty states.

Requiring a criminal court check before the sale of firearms is a good idea, but to suggest that convicted criminals won’t be able to purchase or acquire firearms is fallacious at best.