Guest opinion: Utah’s senators are key to passing background check legislation

After over a year of our government focusing on the coronavirus pandemic, there is hope on the horizon that the worst is behind us. It will soon be time for our elected officials to switch gears to focus on other priorities and issues that American families care about. One issue, which will likely be top of mind for the Democrats in control of Congress, is expanding background checks on gun purchases. While most Americans support universal background checks, it will be incumbent upon our Republican elected officials to ensure that any bill proposed by Democrats does not go too far and infringe on our constitutional rights, and instead focuses on closing existing loopholes in gun laws that most people can agree need to be addressed.

Tragically, it appears that one of the side effects of returning to normalcy in the United States post-pandemic is an increase in mass shootings. We’ve seen it all across the nation, and there are no signs that these incidents will slow or decrease as we head into the summer.

Democrats have campaigned on expanding background checks, and they are certainly not alone in supporting this position. According to aMarch Morning Consult poll, over three-quarters of Republican voters actually support background checks for gun purchases. This number is even higher for Democrats and Independents, showing widespread support for this issue.

Unfortunately, expanding background checks is something that the U.S. Senate cannot get done without support from a few Senate Republicans. It is understandable why. Republicans would be hesitant to work with Democrats on this issue, given how far apart the parties are on the issue of gun rights.

Most Republicans believe the Constitution’s Second Amendment guarantees our personal right to keep and bear arms. Many Democrats try to argue that this was not the founders’ intention, and that there is no personal right to own guns, barring a designated militia.

These positions are impossible to reconcile on principle, and as Republicans, we would also oppose any bill that tries to deny our personal rights as law-abiding citizens to own firearms.

But we cannot let our differences prevent commonsense progress. Our lawmakers – who are serious about protecting lives – have the power to develop policies that do not infringe on our gun rights while also closing loopholes in existing law that have allowed bad actors to access firearms. To be clear, we want individuals to have easy access to firearms and exercise their 2nd amendment right. At the same time, we want it to be harder for those with malicious intent to game the system and access firearms for nefarious purposes.

One such policy is to expand background check requirements to include stranger to stranger sales. We have already seen the tragic effects of this loophole exploited in Odessa, Texas, in 2019. The Odessa-Midland shooter, who killed seven people and shot 22,used loopholes in our background check laws to acquire his gun to hurt innocent people. The shooter, who was federally barred from possessing a firearm, purchased his weapon in an unlicensed person-to-person sale, which allowed him to avoid a background check.

This is an easy fix with targeted legislation, and thankfully there are serious lawmakers on both sides of the U.S. Senate hoping to fix this obvious oversight in current law.

News reports say that Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) are crafting a bill regarding expanded background checks, and are hoping to get enough support in the Senate to reach the needed 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. To do so, they will need the support of pragmatic, conservative Senators like Susan Collins of Maine, and our own Senator Mitt Romney. 

We eagerly support this common-sense approach, knowing that many Utah gun owners would not be affected by this legislation. We trust that our Republican Senators, like Senator Romney, will do the right thing on this issue and support expanding background checks, while also ensuring that Democrats do not successfully pass a bill that would infringe upon our Second Amendment rights.Mackey Smith, Chairman, Utah Young Republicans; Krisana Finlay, Policy Director, Utah Young Republicans; Grayson Massey, National Committeeman, Utah Young Republicans