CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At the huge FBI records center in Clarksburg, federal workers and giant basement computers performed about 17 million background checks on Americans in 2012. But even this mammoth screening isn't sufficient to keep deadly guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals, psychotics and other unfit people.
For one reason, an estimated 40 percent of U.S. gun sales are done by private sellers -- some from car trunks at gun shows, many by good-ol'-boy owners, thousands by street gang thugs -- and these don't go through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
For another, information in the Clarksburg computers is incomplete, because numerous states don't fully report drug addicts, mental cases, wife-beaters and others supposedly disqualified from buying murder weapons.
Several states have listed more than 100,000 mental commitments each, but Rhode Island reported none at all. Five states -- Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts, North Dakota and Pennsylvania -- reported only one each. Eleven others submitted fewer than 10.
Failure to report mental cases apparently caused the 2007 Virginia Tech tragedy. A judge had ruled that a Korean student must get psychiatric treatment -- but the FBI wasn't informed. The student later went to gun stores, passed background screening, bought two weapons, and killed 32 people.
An FBI study found that, during the past seven years, 22,162 firearms were bought after the waiting period by Americans later determined to be unfit because of their criminal and mental histories.
Why do some states fail to submit records to the Clarksburg clearinghouse? "Bureaucratic confusion, political cowardice and utter ineptitude" is an explanation by USA Today. It added:
"North Dakota makes you wonder whether anybody's in charge. Gov. Jack Dalrymple's spokesman says reporting to NICS is Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem's job. Stenehjem's spokesman says his office is merely a 'conduit' and has no access to mental health records: Go talk to the Department of Human Services, says the spokesman. Human Services says it knows nothing about the issue."
Thank heaven, President Obama has launched a broad-scale attempt to protect American families from the worst gun murder rate among advanced nations. Already, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has endorsed the president's crusade -- but West Virginia Republicans like Shelley Capito and David McKinley are balking, and some Democrats are hedging. Sen. Joe Manchin is facing angry protests by Mountain State gun-lovers who think he's wavering on their right to carry arsenals.
Obama said universal background checks on all gun sales, except personal transfers between family members, is "the single most important thing we can do to prevent gun violence and mass shootings." If he can achieve this goal, it could mean an expansion of the Clarksburg FBI center.
The vast majority of Americans want more safeguards against gun murders and massacres. The powerful right-to-bear-arms lobby actually represents just a fringe. The Connecticut slaughter of first-graders put America on the threshold of major reform. We hope a genuine crackdown emerges from this tragic time.