Finding Common Ground on Universal Background Checks

Universal background checks that preserve the rights of law-abiding citizens are a balanced first step to stopping gun violence.

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For the better part of 20 years, I have lived and worked in Washington, D.C., an urban metropolis once dubbed "the violence capital of America" by the Economist. I was born and raised, however, in Alaska, a largely rural state, where guns are an intricate part of its hunting culture and often necessary for survival.

I have lived and witnessed both sides of the gun control debate with my family and my friends, and I have sought to understand the valid points of each. My family believes that guns are to be used responsibly for hunting, sport, recreation and protection. My friends living in Washington, D.C., and other urban areas fervently believe that banning and restricting the use and flow of guns will reduce gun violence.

This past week, while visiting my family in Alaska, I attended my first gun show. I wasn't sure what to expect and did see my share of interesting characters: One woman was carrying her AR-15 like it was a Gucci purse, and camo-chic was definitely the preferred attire, along with military bunny boots and Carhart coveralls. But what struck me most was that vendors were not professional dealers with slick advertisements, instead they were everyday citizens simply looking to sell their wares: Colt 45s, Glock revolvers, hunting knives, bear traps and the increasingly popular AR-15. As one vendor told me, "President Obama should be given the 'gun dealer of the year' award for increasing the sales of the AR-15."

[See a collection of political cartoons on gun control and gun rights.]

At the show, one could sense the ingrained culture surrounding gun ownership from both the vendors and attendees. They were patriotic, law-abiding citizens who want their constitutional rights to be respected and preserved and to protect their family and allow them to hunt the land.

Unfortunately, not everyone in possession of a gun is a law-abiding citizen. Law enforcement is asking for additional tools, such as the ability to have background checks conducted on all sales and to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Today, two out of every five guns sold in the U.S. change hands without a background check. In nine of 10 gun crimes, the gun used was not owned by the original purchaser.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Should Obama's Gun Control Proposals Be Enacted?]

Since the Brady Law took effect, which requires background checks on purchases from a federal licensed dealer, 172 million Americans have been subjected to background checks and 1.3 million criminals and other prohibited purchasers have been stopped from buying guns. In the three of the five states that host the most gun shows, Illinois, Pennsylvania and California, the "gun show loophole" was closed, requiring universal background checks on gun sales by unlicensed and private dealers, proving they can be done efficiently without harm to business.

In January, both Gallup and Fox News polls showed separately, that 91 percent of Americans favored universal background checks on all gun purchases with as many as 77 percent of National Rifle Association members supported the checks.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Should People Be Allowed to Carry Guns Openly?]

Ultimately, we must acknowledge the root cause and seek to change our nation's heart and attitude toward the preciousness of life and not default to having violence solve our problems. My dad recently lamented that, "Until there is a societal attitude about the great value of each individual life, the carnage will continue."

In the meantime, implementing universal background checks that preserve the rights of law-abiding citizens while denying those who target the innocent to perpetrate evil seems like a balanced, common sense first step.

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