Fragmented state gun laws must be replaced by defined federal guidelines

On Thursday, a shooting rampage at Umpqua Community College (UCC) in Oregon left nine people dead and even more wounded. The deceased are students Lucero Alcaraz, Treven Anspach, Rebecka Carnes, Quinn Cooper, Kim Dietz, Lucas Eibel, Jason Johnson, Sarena Moore and writing instructor Lawrence Levine. This violent crime brings to mind a slew of tragedies still fresh in the public’s memory, ranging from classrooms to churches, movie theaters to military bases.

Tragedies such as this always reinvigorate national debate about gun laws. President Barack Obama was quick to address the issue of gun control reform after Thursday’s shooting, calling it a “political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America.”

Like the UCC killer, most of the gunmen in recent mass shootings legally obtained their firearms from federally licensed dealers, according to a recent feature by the New York Times. Criminal histories and documented mental health issues for at least eight of the gunmen fell through the cracks of the current background check system.

The current set of gun laws in the U.S. is too fragmented between the states. To prevent weapons from falling into the wrong hands, a more universal standard for the trade of firearms must be implemented. Currently, the only federal stipulations are background checks, record-keeping of the sale and inventory of firearms and reports of multiple sales in certain cases. These laws apply only to licensed gun dealers, not private sellers. All other provisions about conducting firearms trade are in the hands of the states.

While federal law requires all licensed firearms dealers to conduct some sort of background check, there is no specification for who conducts the background checks. Oregon, for example, is one of the 13 states – including the state of Florida – that have opted out of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) in favor of completely state-controlled background check system. Even states with the NICS, such as South Carolina, are not immune from letting red flags pass by unnoticed, as tragically seen in the case of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in Charleston.

While states’ rights are an essential component of American federalism, we cannot afford to have inconsistencies between gun laws from one state to another. A citizen living in Arkansas should not be living with a higher risk of being killed at gunpoint than a citizen living in Massachusetts in the domain of federal law. There must be a more universal and comprehensive blanket guideline for firearms trade to replace the outdated, patched-together regulations that exist today. The states should comply with common standards about who will conduct background checks, which databases will be used, how mental health issues and alarming behavior can be documented in a detectable way and other responsibilities of a defined “licensed dealer.”

While gun law reform may never completely prevent tragedies like the one on Thursday, having firearms regulations standardized at a federal level may be able to prevent loopholes and oversight.

Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.