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New federal background check law stopped over 200 gun sales

Nicole Melchionno (left) and Po Murray (right) speak about the bill to create an Office of Gun Violence Prevention in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, March 22.
Nicole Melchionno (left) and Po Murray (right) speak about the bill to create an Office of Gun Violence Prevention in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, March 22.

In the months since the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act enacted tighter background checks for gun buyers under 21, more than 200 18- to 20-year-olds were denied gun purchases for various disqualifying reasons, according to FBI data.

None of the denials was in Connecticut. The state’s Special Licensing and Firearms Unit did not have data to share on the number of background checks conducted because of the federal gun safety law but said it is complying with the newer reforms.

Gun safety advocates had pushed for the inclusion of universal background checks in the bill, but they could not get enough support from Republicans in Congress. Still, supporters of the measure were able to get stronger requirements for younger buyers as part of last year’s compromise. The law, among other things, requires background checks for purchases through licensed dealers to also include the search for juvenile records when those under 21 are trying to buy a firearm.

The push for such federal legislation came in the wake of mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, N.Y., that were carried out by 18-year-olds.

Since the passage of the law last June, about 102,000 of these background checks were conducted for purchasers between the ages of 18 and 20. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System denied 960 of those transactions. Of them, 206 were directly attributed to the expanded background checks in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

The FBI, which oversees the nation’s background check system, provided data from the implementation of the law until June 5, 2023. It did not provide a state breakdown of where the 206 blocked transactions occurred. Like other background checks, the department said disqualification can be due to “mental health, juvenile criminal records, unlawful controlled substance user or addict, and/or state specific prohibitions.”

Connecticut officials said that there have been no denials of transactions as a result of the expanded checks for buyers under 21. Connecticut has some of the tightest gun laws in the U.S. and recently passed an update to them.

Lawmakers in Congress who helped craft the law say the next phase is working with states and their legislatures to make sure the background check system has access to states’ juvenile mental health and criminal records that may be blocked due to privacy laws.

“Our next important effort has been state legislatures, because they vary based on the information they can share. It’s really cumbersome in some states to actually get mental health adjudications or violent criminal background records,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., one of the lead GOP negotiators who voted for the law, said in an interview. “And so we’re trying to work with state legislatures to streamline the process.”

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who led the negotiations last summer, noted that some states, like Connecticut, do not allow juvenile records to be shared and are hoping states can create exceptions for the background check system.

“One of the big problems historically in the background check system is that it’s reliant on states uploading good data,” Murphy said. “We’re constantly trying to encourage states to put better data into the system.”

“Many states have privacy laws that don’t allow those juvenile records to be shared. I understand those laws, and I support them, but there should be a carveout to allow juvenile records to be shared with the background check system,” he added. “Connecticut is one of the states that doesn’t allow you to pierce the confidentiality in those records, so we’re working on Connecticut as well.”

While the law is still in the beginning stages, Murphy has pointed to other early results of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. In a recent op-ed, he said straw purchasers and gun traffickers have been charged under the new law’s provisions in 100 cases so far, according to the Department of Justice.

Murphy said much of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act has been implemented in the year since it was signed into law by President Joe Biden. Murphy said he holds regular calls with the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to ensure it is all in place.

He is expected to detail the outcomes of the law and the future of the movement at Friday’s National Safer Communities Summit at the University of Hartford. Murphy, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and gun safety groups from Connecticut and around the U.S. will address the summit. Biden is set to be the keynote speaker.

“I have been focused on making sure that every piece of this law is implemented as quickly as possible,” Murphy said. “I have been pleasantly surprised at how aggressive the administration has been in implementing this law.”

The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation and Engage CT.

This story was originally published by the Connecticut Mirror.

Lisa Hagen is CT Public and CT Mirror’s shared Federal Policy Reporter. Based in Washington, D.C., she focuses on the impact of federal policy in Connecticut and covers the state’s congressional delegation. Lisa previously covered national politics and campaigns for U.S. News & World Report, The Hill and National Journal’s Hotline.

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