Police chiefs call for universal background checks for gun purchases

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News / AP) — The nation's police chiefs are calling for universal background checks for anyone trying to purchase a firearm.

At a gathering in Chicago of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the top cops agreed the checks will help keep guns from people who shouldn't carry them.

“We've got a problem and we need to do something about it,” Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said.

McCarthy, and others who stood with him as part of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, said that the United States is at a crisis point with gun violence. The police chiefs cited a recent poll showing 98 percent of Americans support background checks for all gun purchases, not just at gun shops, and said those checks can reduce gun violence by making it harder for criminals to get guns at gun shows or in states with weak gun laws.

“It's appalling; it's appalling that far too many states allow an individual to acquire a gun without any questions being asked at all. Is this what we want in our society? It’s like letting 40% of people walk through the TSA checkpoint at the airport without any check at all,” said Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson.

Retired Chicago Police Officer Thomas Wortham III personally knows the pain of lax gun laws in other states. His son, police officer Thomas Wortham IV, was murdered with a gun bought illegally in Mississippi and sold to gang members in Chicago.

Wortham III believes universal background checks could have prevented his son's murder.

“Universal background checks, there's a universal file keeping track of who purchased the gun and the serial number of the gun.  If you buy a gun and they can trace that gun to you, you're not going to sell that gun to a gang,” he said.

McCarthy said just because mass shootings around the country haven't pushed politicians to do something yet, that doesn't mean it won't happen.

"We're not going to relent, this is too important. American's are dying and we need to do something about it,” McCarthy said.

The call that such checks for all purchases and not just those from licensed gun dealers is not new. But in the past, law enforcement officials have included such a call as part of a wider effort that included calls for longer prison sentences for those convicted of gun crimes.

By narrowing their focus to background checks that polls indicate have overwhelming public support, the chiefs say they hope they can convince the public to push lawmakers for legislation that will reduce gun violence.