Press Release

Gillibrand Announces Bills To Strengthen And Expand Background Check Requirements To Reduce Gun Violence

Mar 5, 2021

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined Senate Democrats to introduce two bills to strengthen and expand background check requirements as communities across New York State experience increased gun violence during the pandemic. Today, Senator Gillibrand cosponsored the Background Check Completion Act, legislation that would require a completed background check for every gun buyer who purchases a gun from a federally-licensed gun dealer. Senator Gillibrand also reintroduced the bicameral Background Check Expansion Act , legislation that would expand federal background checks to all gun sales, including by unlicensed or private sellers. 97% of Americans support comprehensive background checks. 

“The coronavirus outbreak has amplified the gun violence epidemic in our country and Congress must implement commonsense solutions to prevent more violence,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Closing the dangerous Charleston loophole and expanding background check requirements for all firearm sales are important steps that would prevent dangerous people from purchasing a weapon. I’m proud to support these important bills and I will continue fighting to keep New Yorkers safe from gun violence.”

“For too many years Congress has turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the nation’s calls for common sense gun safety laws. For years Americans have clamored for universal background checks to close the gun-show and on-line loopholes. Polls consistently show that up to 97% of Americans support expanded background checks, including 72% of NRA members. And still, the GOP-controlled Congress wouldn’t act,” said Paul McQuillen, Executive Director of Gun Sense NY. “Gun Sense NY supports and applauds Senators Murphy, Blumenthal, Gillibrand and others who have consistently championed gun violence prevention legislation in the Congress. We thank them for their determination to finally enact legislation that Americans have been advocating. We hope this is just the beginning!”

The devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including school closures, unemployment, and housing and food insecurity, have exacerbated community gun violence, especially in communities of color. Communities across New York State have seen a significant increase in community gun violence since the stay-at-home orders have been in place. A study by the National Commission on Covid-19 and Criminal Justice on gun violence during the pandemic found that homicide rates in 28 cities across the country increased by 42% last summer and 34% in the fall, compared to summer and fall of 2019. In Buffalo, NY, the number of people shot in 2020 increased 90% compared to 2019, according to Buffalo Police Department statistics. By last summer gun violence was already increasing across the state — in August shootings increased by 79% in New York City, Upstate shooting injuries were up 70% year to year, rates in Rochester increased by 54%, and by 130% in Syracuse. 

The Background Check Completion Act would close the current “Charleston loophole” which allows gun sales to proceed if a background check is not completed within 72 hours, even if the gun buyer is not legally allowed to purchase a gun. When a criminal background check indicates that a firearm purchaser may have a criminal record, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) tries to determine whether the purchaser can legally buy a gun. If this process takes longer than 72 hours, gun dealers can complete the sale even though there is a heightened risk that the purchaser is legally disqualified from purchasing a gun. This dangerous gap has allowed thousands of gun sales to prohibited buyers, including the sale of the firearm used by the shooter in the deadly attack at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church. The Background Check Completion Act would require a completed background check for every gun buyer who purchases a gun from a federally-licensed gun dealer.  

The Background Checks Expansion Act would require background checks for the sale or transfer of all firearms — including all unlicensed sellers, whether they do business online, at gun shows, or out of their home. Under current federal law, unlicensed or private sellers are not required to conduct a background check prior to transferring a firearm and research indicates that as many as a quarter of all gun sales in the United States may occur without a background check. 

Exceptions to the Background Check Expansion Act include transfers between law enforcement officers, temporarily loaning firearms for hunting and sporting events, providing firearms as gifts to immediate family members, transferring a firearm as part of an inheritance, or temporarily transferring a firearm for immediate self-defense. 

Earlier this week, Senator Gillibrand urged President Joe Biden to quickly nominate a permanent Director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) who is committed to increasing public safety and addressing the gun violence epidemic across the country.