News Claims Few Use Voluntary Checks, But Fails To Ask Why

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File

In Virginia, if you’re at a gun show and you’re looking to buy a gun, it’s possible for the seller to conduct a background check on you. It’s not required, but it can still be done. For some, that makes them feel better about selling a gun to a stranger.

I get it.

However, the folks over at The Roanoke Times decided the aftermath of a mass shooting was a good time to talk about how little these voluntary checks are supposedly used.

The background check measure was designed to deter private gun sales to buyers who could not pass a background check by positioning Virginia State Police at every gun show to perform voluntary checks at the behest of unlicensed private sellers who lack access to the state database used by licensed firearms dealers.

So far, the law doesn’t appear to be yielding the results that supporters envisioned when it was put in place as part of a bipartisan gun safety deal.

Private sellers at the 197 gun shows held across the state between July 1, 2016, and Dec. 31, 2018, requested only 132 voluntary background checks on their customers during that period, according to data from the Virginia Firearms Transactions Center operated by state police.

By comparison, 87,609 mandatory criminal background checks were performed by federally licensed firearms dealers on their customers at those 197 gun shows during that same period, resulting in 715 denials, according to VFTC data reviewed by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The question is, why?

That’s what’s not being asked by the paper, and it’s an important question. While they admit that the vast majority of sales at gun shows are conducted by licensed dealers who perform background checks, they don’t ask how many private sales are taking place.

Now, in fairness, there’s little chance of them finding out. Records aren’t required for such sales, and gun shows don’t typically keep track of such things. It’s likely that no one would know.

However, without that information, it’s impossible to know if the program is little used or if it’s a case of there not being that many private sales at gun shows.

While some have tried to argue that this is a major problem, even calling it the “gun show loophole,” there aren’t that many people buying and selling guns at shows besides the dealers.

I’d wager that those 132 voluntary background checks represented a significant number of those private sales. Not all, certainly. After all, they’re voluntary, and a number of people feel any background check is unconstitutional. They don’t want the government knowing they picked up anything.

A lot of folks don’t worry about that. They want to make sure their guns are sold to law-abiding citizens. There’s a reason a lot of private sales in shall issue states will offer a discount to anyone with a valid carry permit. They don’t want to sell their guns to someone who turns out to be a criminal.

That means folks like that will likely use such a system, especially if it’s voluntary.

Now, in fairness, The Roanoke Times does speak with the lawmaker who introduced the bill creating these checks. He argues things like this take time to catch on, which is also a distinct possibility.

Yet, without knowing how many sales are conducted, we don’t know that the claim it’s little used is remotely valid.

But I can’t help but believe that it’s intentional.

After all, we have a story in a Virginia newspaper less than a week after a mass shooting that claimed the lives of 12 people. I can’t help but believe the story’s timing is suspicious since Gov. Ralph Northam has called for a special legislative session to pass things like universal background checks.

I mean, Northam wants universal background checks and The Roanoke Times happens to have a story claiming the voluntary system isn’t being used all that much? Awfully convenient if you ask me, especially since, as I noted before, we don’t know if it’s little used.