Guest opinion: Take one small step to prevent gun violence

This article originally appeared in the Deseret News.

A few years back, I had the opportunity to experience a slice of Canadian gun control first-hand.

I was visiting my sister in Ontario for a birthday celebration, and we may have taken the idea of open-door festivities too far because we woke the next morning to the remnants of a burglary. We called the police, just like here in the United States, but what was different is that the first thing the responding officer asked was to speak with my sister’s boyfriend, the owner of six firearms registered to the address. It was only after the officer confirmed that all six guns were accounted for, with ammunition properly stored, that she would proceed with the investigation.

What struck me at the time was how civilized the whole thing was. How civilized and safe. Nothing in the law prevented my sister’s boyfriend, an avid pheasant and duck hunter, from owning multiple firearms. His rights were secure. But because the police knew about the guns, they could check on their security — protecting us, them and the community from misunderstandings and misuse.

This memory has returned to me often, each time we’ve heard about another murder, suicide or mass shooting where a gun in the hands of the wrong person played a key role in our American gun tragedy.

If you’re thinking now that I’m just another gun hater, you’d be wrong. I grew up with guns and have spent big chunks of my adult life around them. I’m not afraid of guns, and I don’t demonize gun owners.

And yes, I realize that we already have many gun laws. And I accept that no single law would have stopped the atrocities in Florida, Las Vegas, Fashion Place Mall or the University of Utah.

I have enough loved ones on both sides of our bumper sticker gun war to know the arguments, slogans and dueling studies. And I know where they lead us, which is exactly here, to this stagnant moment where the only real movement is tears down the cheeks of family and friends.

So here’s what I’m hoping, as a citizen who is weary of both death and the rhetoric: I’m hoping we can convince our lawmakers to take just one commonsense step to help prevent gun violence. I’m hoping they’ll close the loopholes that let people purchase guns from private sellers without getting background checks.

While federal law requires licensed firearms dealers to conduct background checks when selling guns, private sellers are exempt, even at gun shows and when making sales online. Twenty states have passed laws that expand background checks to include at least some private sales — and Utah should join them.

According to a 2013 study published in Injury Prevention magazine, “About 80 percent of all firearms acquired for criminal purposes — 96 percent of those acquired by prohibited people — are obtained in private-party transfers.” Many of these guns are trafficked from states with weak laws to states with strong laws.

These statistics are national, but unless we close background check loopholes here, Utah will be a potential contributor to gun violence rather than a model for solutions. We’ll remain as we are — a broken link in the national fence that other states have built for the common good.

In a less chaotic political climate, closing these loopholes wouldn’t require much courage from our legislators. According to a 2018 survey by Dan Jones & Associates, almost 90 percent of Utahns support background checks on all gun purchases, and Rep. Brian King’s HB418, Universal Background Checks for Gun Purchasers, provides a convenient vehicle for heeding the voice of the people.7c

Yet even as I type this, I realize things aren’t so simple. Our legislators will be bombarded from both sides. Some will cite studies showing background checks don’t work, while others will show evidence that it depends on how they’re implemented, that not enough time has elapsed, and that we need more states to comply before we can tell for sure. Everyone will have horror stories. Statistics will be misunderstood and misused.

So courage is required of our lawmakers. We need them to stand up to anti-gun safety lobbyists and support universal background checks. Although it admittedly won’t stop all firearm violence, it allows us to do our part. Like people in times past who laid foundation stones for cathedrals they would never live to see, Utah lawmakers can do this one small thing to help create a safer society for their grandkids and ours.

This article originally appeared in the Deseret News.

Shauna Bona is a small-business owner in Salt Lake City and board member of the Alliance for a Better Utah.

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