One of the ideas I’ve heard floated in the post-Newtown gun-control debate is to conduct background checks on not only the gun applicant, but every person in his or her household. After all, Adam Lanza committed his horrendous massacre with guns that were legally purchased and owned by his mother.
This thought came to mind anew this week, as I go through the process of picking and adopting a rescue dog from a local shelter: No matter how much of a dog lover I appear to be, no matter how earnest my desire to give a good home to a deserving animal, this shelter’s policy requires that the dog “meet” every member of my family—including a previous dog we adopted there—before they’ll allow me to adopt him.
Think about this for a moment. I’m required to “audition” my entire family to take a dog home, but if I want to bring a deadly firearm into my household, the seller is required to consider my qualifications alone to own it.
As a society, we make a big assumption that when a gun is purchased, it will be kept secure from theft and abuse. We expect it will be locked up unless it’s being used, and certainly won’t fall into the hands of a curious child. Most parents as a matter of common sense will take steps to prevent an accidental discharge, and even then we routinely hear about tragic incidents involving children. But what of an older member of the household, who not only has the forethought to use a gun, but likely the means to obtain it from that locked box, bottom of the nightstand drawer, or even a gun safe?
It could be someone who’s been diagnosed with a mental issue. It might be someone with an exceptionally short temper. Or it could just be an emotionally troubled teen who’s tired of the bullying or wants revenge for a perceived sleight. Granted, these characteristics may not always be obvious to the layman or the gunshop owner, but if there’s a criminal record, a stint in rehab, an enforced institutionalization, or an actual diagnosis, that could be enough to raise a red flag that this applicant’s home environment is not conducive to gun ownership.
It’s an old societal irony that in the United States, you need a license to get married, but you don’t need any official document to take on one of life’s biggest responsibilities—having a child.
It’s just as ironic that to adopt a dog, a shelter requires that dog to meet everyone in the family where it will live. But to buy a gun, only the individual owner has to undergo scrutiny. As the Newtown massacre proved, that’s just not sufficient. A background check of not only the applicant, but each member of the household in which the gun will be kept, should become de rigueur in the gun-buying process.