Friday, February 17, 2023

New 'Safer Communities Act' restricts gun access for teenagers

The gun reform law Congress passed after two mass shootings by teenagers last year has begun blocking some firearm sales to people under 21, reported the Huffington Post.

So far, more stringent background checks for younger gun buyers have resulted in 64 denied transactions, an FBI spokesperson told HuffPost on Wednesday.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, signed by President Joe Biden in June, expanded criminal background checks for sales at licensed gun dealers to include searches of juvenile records for prospective buyers ages 18 to 20.

The new law requires the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System to look for potentially disqualifying information at local law enforcement agencies, state criminal juvenile justice repositories, and state custodians of mental health records. Previously, the system generally looked only at adult court records.

The expanded checks were phased in with just one state participating in October and a national rollout on Jan. 3. Since the law’s enactment, the system has denied 425 transactions involving buyers ages 18 to 20, the FBI said, with 64 of those a direct result of the new law’s juvenile background checks. It’s possible that firearm dealers refused additional transactions and that some sales went through without a timely response from the system.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), one of the lead authors of the law, said Justice Department officials told him during an early January congressional visit to a background check facility in Clarksburg, West Virginia, that the new policy had blocked 27 firearm sales to people under 21.

 “They’re starting to actually deny gun purchases based on juvenile mental health and criminal records,” Cornyn told HuffPost. “It’s just the beginning, and hopefully as the bill’s being implemented it will have a bigger impact.”

There’s no doubt 64 rejected transactions represent a small impact, given the overall volume of gun purchases. People with felony criminal records or restraining orders have long been barred from gun ownership, and in 2021, the most recent year for which data is available, the national background check system ran nearly 10 million checks, denying more than 153,000 transactions, according to the FBI’s latest report.

But the blocked sales represent a momentous political change after decades of congressional inaction on rising gun violence, which in 2020 became the leading cause of death among children in the United States. Some kids today have personally experienced multiple mass shootings in their short lifetimes, including Jackie Matthews, a Michigan State University senior present for the Sandy Hook massacre of 2012 and another mass shooting at her current campus this week.

Peter Ambler, director of the gun control group Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence, said the fact that the new law has already prevented several dozen under-21 gun sales shows there’s plenty of opportunity for Congress to make people safer from gun violence.

“Even the most cursory of investigations and examinations are going to uncover people whose histories show that it would be irresponsible for any society to allow them to purchase or carry a gun,” Ambler said in an interview.

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