One of the most meaningful aspects of New York's recently passed Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act is the requirement that an individual who wants to sell a gun has to have a background check on the buyer performed by a licensed firearms dealer. A similar federal requirement is being debated in Washington. The intent is sound: No one should be allowed to buy a gun, whether from a big-box store, a gun show or a neighbor, without being cleared by a background check. Federal law since 1994 has required a check of the National Instant Criminal Background System when a gun is purchased from a federally licensed dealer, but not for guns purchased from others. It's a huge loophole: Experts say about 40 percent of gun sales in the United States don't require the checks.
Now, with New York's law in effect for three weeks, some dealers on Long Island are refusing to perform the checks for hopeful private gun sellers, saying the $10 fee the law allows them to charge for the service is too little. Other dealers say they are doing the checks, because they're glad to have the $10 and the foot traffic.
The lack of consensus on whether doing the checks is worth it suggests dealers who refuse may be avoiding more than hassle. They may, for business or political reasons, be refusing to be the agent of the government's policy on universal background checks.
Keeping guns out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them has far more potential to curb gun violence than most regulations, particularly if universal checks are adopted nationally. What may be needed is a Web portal or phone line that individuals can call, particularly if universal background checks become national law. Alternately, it may turn out that $10 is indeed too low for the fee. But kinks in the system can't be allowed to sink the universal checks.