Our View: Time for universal background checks
Our View

Our View: Time for universal background checks

Rossi Ranch Hand

Police believe John Wayne Strawser Jr. used a .44 caliber Rossi Ranch Hand, similar to the one shown here, to kill Timothy Davison and Amy Lou Buckingham.

At the time John Wayne Strawser possessed and used a gun to kill Amy Lou Buckingham on April 16, 2015, he was a convicted felon, on probation, and facing a peace order.

Police say Strawser used the same gun on Jan. 4, 2014, to shoot and kill Timothy Davison of Maine on Interstate 81 near Greencastle.

Strawser was convicted of murdering Buckingham and awaits trial for murder charges in Davison’s case.

As Sentinel Reporter Joshua Vaughn showed in his four-day series looking at Strawser’s criminal past, Strawser, at the very least, should never have possessed a gun.

A convicted felon on probation facing a peace order (similar to a Protection From Abuse order) ... anyone of those things would have marked Strawser as a person not to possess a firearm if a background check were done. In Strawser’s case, he had all three circumstances on his criminal record.

In Pennsylvania, state law requires mandatory background checks for all sales of handguns (long guns like rifles or shotguns can be sold privately without a background check in Pa.) ... West Virginia, and several other states, do not.

That needs to change. It’s time for a uniform universal background check for all sales of guns.

Currently, only eight states and Washington D.C., including Pennsylvania, require universal background checks. And while Federal law requires a background check for any firearm purchased through a Federally licensed dealer, states decide how the private sale of handguns are monitored.

In the case of Strawser, State Police say the Rossi Ranch Hand handgun Strawser used to murder Buckingham and is accused of using to murder Davison, was obtained through a private sale.

The gun started its journey being sold by a federally licensed dealer, but State Police don’t know how many hands it passed through before Strawser purchased it.

What they do know is a background check on Strawser was never required, never performed. As Vaughn’s reporting shows, authorities missed several chances to check Strawser’s criminal past and file charges for possessing a firearm ... and more importantly chances to remove a firearm from his possession.

Breakdowns in communication between law enforcement agencies and within law enforcement agencies could have helped prevent a man from committing murder.

But more stringent laws requiring background checks for any purchase of a gun would have provided the initial roadblock needed to keep a man like Strawser from gaining access to that gun in the first place.

People will argue that no law or regulation can keep a criminal from obtaining a gun if they are determined to possess one. Perhaps; but isn’t that true of many laws and regulations we routinely enforce.

There is no guarantee that taking someone’s drivers license away will stop someone when they drive under the influence, but we try. Likewise, there is no guarantee that an adult won’t abuse a child when we remove them from a home, but we try.

Shame on us if we don’t also try to make guns inaccessible to people who have proven they are a danger to others.


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