For a number of years, the primary legislative goal of the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort (WAVE) has been to require all gun sales in the state to include a criminal background check of the buyer.
Many people think we already have that. But in fact a background check is required only if the sale is made by a federally licensed dealer.
If you sell a gun across your kitchen table, or through the classified ads, or out of the trunk of your car, there's no background check. And it's all perfectly legal.
A New England Journal of Medicine article helps put that into perspective:
In 2007, a total of 12,632 people in the United States were murdered with firearms, and it is estimated that another 48,676 were treated in hospitals for gunshot wounds received in assaults. Guns are frequently used to commit crimes in the United States, partly because they are so easy to get. This ease of access, in turn, is partially attributable to the fact that there are two systems of retail gun commerce in this country, one involving licensed gun retailers and the other based on private-party gun sellers, and only the former of these systems is regulated. Some 85% of all guns used in crimes and then recovered by law-enforcement agencies have been sold at least once by private parties...
However, under federal law you can also legally buy as many guns as you want from a private party, and none of those procedural safeguards will apply. Private-party gun sales can be completely anonymous and undocumented. Private sellers are not required to see identification or keep records, and they cannot initiate background checks. A brief negotiation over price, an exchange of cash, gun, and a handshake, and your purchase is complete.
Today, private parties can buy and sell many guns a year while claiming not to be engaged in the business. Perhaps 40% of all gun sales nationwide — roughly 6.6 million transactions in 2008 — are made by private parties. Moreover, private parties can sell handguns to anyone 18 years of age or older; licensed retailers cannot sell handguns to anyone under 21 years of age.
About one-third of the states have passed laws to plug this huge loophole, some covering only gun show sales and some all private sales. Wisconsin has done nothing, despite WAVE's efforts and polls showing that 85% of the people in the state support such a law, and even gun owners and 70% of NRA members support it.
Meanwhile, a Wisconsin sheriff says he won't even enforce the state firearms laws that are already on the books, based on his own wacky interpretation of a recent US Supreme Court decision.
In the Milwaukee area, a gun store that has sold guns that have killed six police officers in two years, but remains licensed despite repeated violations.
Is this a great system or what?
Disclosure: I am a member of WAVE's board, and as the late Erwin Knoll of The Progressive used to say, I practice unilateral disarmament. In a country where everybody is armed to the teeth, I don't own a gun.