Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Every time there's another mass shooting in America, politicians have the same idea. It's time to require a background check for anyone who wants to buy a gun. I'm one of the Republicans who does believe there should be background checks. It is an open secret that the existing background check system is broken. Oh I have an appetite for background checks. We're going to be doing background checks. Here's what they want to change: Right now, gun buyers in the US only have to go through a background check at a gun store. But they don't have to go through one if they buy a gun from an unlicensed dealer, like at a gun show or a private sale. But with universal background checks, everyone who buys a gun would go through one. Pretty much every American is in favor of this. There's only one problem. Universal background checks won't solve America's gun crisis. But there's something else that might. To understand how background checks work, it helps to imagine two very different people, who both want to buy a gun. This first person is dangerous. Maybe he has a history of domestic violence or mental illness. And most importantly—he has a record. And the second one is not dangerous. He just wants a gun for protection, or to go hunting, or cause shooting guns is kinda fun. Before either one can buy a gun, they first have to go through an FBI instant background check. And I mean instant—it only takes an average of 108 seconds to get a response from the FBI's database. That database is made up of records sent in by state police and other agencies. And it's checked to see if the buyer has things like a criminal record, addiction, a restraining order, or has been hospitalized for mental illness. Under a universal background check system, anyone buying a gun—whether in a gun store, or through a private sale—would have to be checked through that database. That means our second person walks out with a gun. And our first person, with a criminal record, doesn't. Or, at least he shouldn't. I've done a lot of reporting on this, we have just seen time and time again that background checks just do not stop people we don't want having guns from actually getting the weapons. There are a couple problems with the background check system. One is that the FBI database is about as outdated as its logo. It's missing millions of records. That's why the Charleston church shooter was able to buy a gun, despite having a record. Or why the man who killed 26 Texan churchgoers was also able to pass a background check, after the Air Force failed to send his domestic abuse convictions to the FBI. So even with a background check for every type of sale, there's still a chance this guy gets a gun. That's partly why study after study has found that while background checks "prevent, or make substantially more difficult, the criminal acquisition of firearms.", making them universal doesn't have any effect on the actual gun crisis in America: gun deaths. A Johns Hopkins study of California, where comprehensive background checks were implemented in 1991, found the law was "not associated with changes in firearm suicide or homicide.", thanks in part to those incomplete and missing records. The other problem with background checks is that they only look at "good" people and "already bad" people. But there is an in-between. The background checks are supposed to catch people who have a record already. It just misses all the people who haven't done anything bad yet but might do something bad in the future. German is not advocating for a Minority Report situation. He's talking about someone like this guy, who is also dangerous, but who doesn't have a record. Under a universal background check system, he could get a gun. In 108 seconds. But there's another system that could prevent this. Twelve states and DC have gone one step further and established a licensing system. How's it different? Well, Here's how it works in Massachusetts. Before you ever go to a gun store, you first have to take a firearm safety course. Then you have to go to the police department and submit an application, give references and give your fingerprints for a background check. Then not only is the FBI database checked, but all local law enforcement agencies wherever you've lived are directly contacted, along with the Department of Mental Health. That entire process in Massachusetts usually takes about 3 weeks. And most people‚ about 97%, pass. Nothing about a licensing system will prevent a law-abiding citizen from going through the process and obtaining a firearm. That's Dr. Cassandra Crifasi, she researches health policy at Johns Hopkins, and she's one of the authors of the studies earlier. She says the reason licensing works is that it's designed to do both of the big things background checks fail at. A, to properly identify and screen out people who shouldn't have guns. And B, create a system to reduce impulsive gun purchases. The licensing system is more comprehensive than the one-database background check system, so our criminal will be reliably denied a gun. But because it's so meticulous, it also stands a chance of keeping our third guy, without a record, from getting a gun. There are people who may want to impulsively acquire a firearm, for example to harm themselves or others. And the process of obtaining a license can at least delay that person during that time of crisis or, you know, maybe deter them from getting that firearm at all. In 1995, Connecticut implemented a licensing system. Over the next 10 years, they saw a drop in gun homicides and gun suicides. Compare that to Missouri, which once had a licensing system, but got rid of it in 2007. Over the next decade, they had a huge spike in gun homicides and gun suicides. In both states there were lots of factors involved. But researchers say this shows that licensing works. It's also… pretty popular. Among voters who live in a house with a gun, more than two-thirds think that it's a good idea. Ask all Americans, and more than three-quarters support it. Background checks are supposed to stop bad people from getting guns. But they often don't. Licensing picks up that slack. By making sure that people are crossing these hurdles, we just make sure, in a much better, stronger way, that people are not getting firearms when they shouldn't have them.