Background Checks

The Issue

Loopholes and gaps in the law make it possible to buy certain types of guns in Pennsylvania without a background check. This doesn’t make sense and we can fix it.


The Facts

Background checks keep guns out of the hands of criminals, those who have been involuntarily committed to mental institutions, domestic abusers with active Protection from Abuse orders (PFAs), and drug abusers. Since 1998, the National Instant Check System (NICS) has blocked nearly 3 million sales to prohibited purchasers. And since its inception, the PA Instant Check System (PICS) has blocked sales to nearly 200,000 prohibited purchasers. Background checks effectively enforce the rule of law in PA by blocking firearms sales to people who are not legally allowed to buy or possess firearms.

Unfortunately, loopholes in the law enable some of these people to buy guns without background checks. Federal law governing background checks only regulates sales at federally licensed dealers, not private or unlicensed sellers. In Pennsylvania, all sales of handguns also require a background check, even private sales. But long guns (including rifles, shotguns and semi-automatic military-style rifles) can be sold in Pennsylvania without a background check as long as they are sold by a private seller. Think about it: sellers with arguably the least amount of accountability in the event of a tragedy can sell the deadliest guns–guns that can fire 100 bullets in minutes–in a parking lot, or at someone’s home, or after arranging online to meet in person without so much as asking for a name, let alone running a background check. Although long guns are used less frequently in crimes than are handguns, they are used disproportionately by domestic abusers against their intimate partners, by criminals against law enforcement officers, and in mass- and school shootings throughout the Commonwealth and the U.S.

State Legislation

HB 673 and SB 88 have been introduced to address the gap in background checks. These bill have been designed to close the “long gun loophole” by treating the private sale of long guns in PA the same as the private sale of handguns. They are currently waiting for votes in their respective Judiciary Comittees.
Last session, a previous version of the Senate bill picked up a dozen cosponsors, but did not generate significant activity in the Judiciary Committee. However, after working tirelessly to build support in the House, we were able to secure 74 cosponsors, hearings on the bill’s merits, and a vote in the House Judiciary Committee. Unfortunately, the bill was voted down in Judiciary by one single vote.

Federal Legislation

In addition to state action, CeaseFirePA continues to work for reform at the federal level. Right now, the federal background checks law does not cover the private sale of firearms, so both handguns and long guns can be sold by non-licensed dealers of any stripe without a background check (as long as state law does not provide otherwise).

Although the Senate failed to get a straight up-or-down vote on the Manchin-Toomey bill (S.649) of 2013, we have joined with our national partners and other state groups in pushing for renewed action in the House and Senate during each subsequent legislative session.

In 2018, the House of Representatives passed HR. 8, the Bipartisan Universal Background Checks bill that would effectively close the private sale loophole and require background checks on all gun sales and transfers. It covers commercial sales beyond those that occur at a federally licensed dealer, including at gun shows, online intrastate sales, and other commercial transactions; expansion of protections for victims of domestic abuse, and strengthened efforts to fight trafficking. It’s Senate companion bill, S42, is waiting for a vote in the Senate. This bill is a much stronger background check bill then the one introduced by Senator Toomey in 2013. Click here to read our anaylsis comparing the Manchin-Toomey bill to S42.

In 2021, HR. 8 was reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives after sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk for months in 2019, never receiving a debate or a vote in the Senate. 


What Can You Do?

Urge your state representative and senator to close the long gun loophole by supporting HB 673 and SB 88. Call on U.S. Senator Pat Toomey to support the Background Check Expansion Act.


Issue Resources

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