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December 21, 2014

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Tighten background checks for guns

While serving in the Air Force, I saw my fair share of carnage as a World War II, Korean War and Cold War veteran. Unfortunately, wars like these are no longer reserved for distant shores in far away places.

Gun violence occurs every day in America, and it has become far too easy for dangerous people to get guns and massacre dozens. Every day, 32 Americans are murdered by gun violence; it is not uncommon to turn on your television to see another deadly blood bath here on our soil.

While there is no policy proposal that will completely eradicate gun violence, there are common-sense solutions that are proven to reduce gun violence and can make our communities safer.

Congress passed federal background checks in 1993, but now felons and other dangerous people are taking advantage of loopholes. Even if denied the sale of a gun at a dealer, a person can purchase a gun that same day online or at a nearby gun show without a background check.

For years, background checks have been a very effective tool in weeding out dangerous people, like terrorists, from owning guns. Over the past 20 years, background checks have blocked more than 2 million gun purchases by prohibited buyers.

After serving many years in the military and in civilian life as a personnel security officer, I can attest to the importance and effectiveness of background checks. In 1999, National Rifle Association Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre testified in favor of background checks because they work.

Today, the gun lobby has moved to the wrong side of history and now opposes this sensible system of accountability. Lobbyists argue that background checks are somehow a burden — even though they provide the same, fair treatment for everyone and take almost no time at all. In reality, background checks are as logical as security in an airport, and they take less time.

I recently joined Veterans for Responsible Solutions, a national constituency of retired flag officers and senior officers, and former enlisted service members of the U.S. Armed Forces founded by former astronaut and Navy Capt. Mark Kelly. With some 300 of us around the country from all branches and ranks, we’re working to share our expertise with guns and experiences as vets in support of responsible gun ownership policies and measures to reduce gun violence.

We — yes, even this 93-year-old retired airman — are fighting for common-sense legislation to close loopholes so that felons and the dangerously mentally ill will be prohibited from purchasing guns online or at gun shows.

Currently, 40 percent of all gun purchases do not undergo a background check, and we are ready to work and support any person of any party who is committed to improving this.

We are taking notice of our elected leaders, like Nevada Sen. Dean Heller and Gov. Brian Sandoval, who have opposed responsible solutions that will reduce gun violence like expanded background checks.

In April, Heller voted against the Manchin-Toomey Amendment that would have expanded background checks to cover online sales and gun shows. In June, Sandoval vetoed a state bill that would have eliminated some of the very loopholes that criminals are exploiting to obtain guns. Capt. Kelly even testified here in support.

Polling has shown that 86 percent of Nevadans and the vast majority of Americans support background checks to stop felons, domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill and other dangerous people from buying firearms.

Now is the time for Heller and Sandoval to show great courage and rethink their positions.

Bob Berry, who lives in Las Vegas, is a retired Air Force master sergeant and a two-year veteran of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

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