The Promise and Pitfalls of Universal Background Checks

Guns in a display case at a store in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2008. (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)This is one of the better gun-control proposals around, even if that’s not saying much.

Much as we did after Sandy Hook, we find ourselves debating background checks in the wake of killings that would not have been prevented by one. More than 60,000 Americans died by gun homicide between 2013 and 2017, but our attention is drawn only to the rarest, most spectacular, and most unusual incidents, those where a half-day or so’s worth of fatalities happen all in one place — and in those, it is usually the case that the deranged killer bought his guns legally or took them from someone else who did.

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But then again, now is as good a time as any to talk about measures that could affect the killings where that is not the case. And as far as gun-control proposals go, universal background checks are among the better ones: They are politically feasible, might actually reduce gun violence on the margins, and would not unduly burden law-abiding gun owners. There are countless reasons to be less trigger-happy about them than their

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