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Would Linking Hate-Crime Laws to Gun Background Checks Be Another Band-Aid Solution?

In response to the Sunday morning massacre that left 50 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando dead, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey has proposed legislation that would bar individuals convicted of hate crimes from owning guns, Politico reported today.

Recent proposals to expand background checks for gun purchases have focused on subjecting all gun transactions to the existing National Criminal Instant Background Check System, which is operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and does not apply to gun purchases outside federally licensed sellers. The NCIBCS system blocks purchases based on factors including previous felony convictions or indictments, failed drug tests, a recognized history of mental illness, and illegal immigrant status. Casey’s legislation would expand federal restrictions to anyone convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes.

The targeting of the Orlando nightclub, and reports of the shooter’s expressed animosity toward gay people, indicate homophobia as a motive for the attack. Yet the shooter, Omar Mateen, had never been convicted of a hate crime. He would thus not have been denied a gun under the proposed legislative expansion.

In fact, Mateen reportedly purchased his guns from a federally licensed arms dealer, despite having been previously investigated by the FBI for suspected connections to terrorism (those claims were found insubstantial in 2014). Had a background check flagged that information, he still would have been able to purchase guns legally under NCIBCS standards.

So even with the inclusion of hate crime-based restrictions, background checks would not have been enough to stop Sunday night’s massacre.