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Special Report: Gun control by the numbers

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The National Instant Criminal Background Check System went into effect in 1998 for all firearms dealers. However, the federal law does not cover private sales. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System went into effect in 1998 for all firearms dealers. However, the federal law does not cover private sales.
RALEIGH, N.C. -

Advocates for expanded gun background checks are lobbying Congress to try again to pass the bill three weeks after the measure failed to reach a 60-vote threshold to stop a filibuster in the Senate.

Last month, North Carolina Democratic Senator Kay Hagan voted in favor of the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act to expand background checks. N.C. Republican Senator Richard Burr voted against it.

The bill ultimately failed, 54-46.

Gun control advocates hope more background checks will keep guns out of the hands of criminals and prevent another Sandy Hook. And those supporters in the Senate have vowed to bring it back up for another vote.

But does gun control work?

Effie Steele, whose 21-year-old daughter was gunned down, is convinced a background check could have stopped the man who she believes is mentally ill.

"Why would you be against it?" Steele asked. "It doesn't hurt anybody. It doesn't take anything from anybody."

Steele's daughter, Ebony Robinson, was murdered in 2007 by the father-figure in her life. Steele says Kenneth White had also raped Ebony multiple times, and she was pregnant with his child.

"He murdered her," Steele said. "He took her to the woods, shot her four times and left her in the woods in Orange County."

White, 44, was convicted of first degree murder in 2008, and records show he had a few run-ins with police prior to his murder charge. Had a background check been run on White, Steele says Ebony may be alive today.

"They would have known that he was mentally ill, because anybody who would kill their own child has to be mentally ill," Steele said.

The laws on background checks are complicated. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System went into effect in 1998 for all firearms dealers. However, the federal law does not cover private sales.

The FBI says its system has stopped more than a million people from purchasing a firearm since 1998. And nearly 80 percent of those denials were because the applicant had been convicted of a serious crime.

[PDF] Federal Gun Permit Denials (Nov. 30 1998 - April 30, 2013)

North Carolina also has its own handgun purchase permit requirements. The state's background checks only cover handgun sales, but include private sales.

The catch: the checks do not cover shot guns. That means, even with both laws in place, an adult can purchase a shot gun from a private seller in North Carolina without a background check.

It's a loophole that Steele wants lawmakers to close.

"We're not trying to take anything from anyone," Steele explained. "We're just trying to add … another layer of protection."

She added, "It protects you, it protects the gun sellers, it protects the people who run the gun shows."

Still, opposition to gun control is unwavering.

"We will not compromise on this issue," said Paul Valone, president of gun lobby organization Grassroots NC. "The fact is no new gun control is acceptable."

Valone says expanding background checks is just a slippery slope to more restrictions.

"The reason for this is to create a gun registration system so they can incrementally restrict ownership of firearms by private citizens," Valone said.

But according to the FBI, information from background checks are ultimately destroyed, and keeping a registry is illegal.

Valone says the only proven way to reduce gun violence is to increase the law-abiding public's access to guns. He says criminals will find a way around any new laws.

"The fact is background check laws don't stop felons from getting firearms," Valone contested.

The Wake County Sheriff's Department says it processed more than 60,000 applications between 2010 and 2012. Of those, 740 were denied.

Durham County says it processed more than 4,600 permits between 2010 and June 2012, however the county did not provided the number of permit denials.

In Cumberland County, more than 71,000 people applied to buy a handgun there in the last 15 years. However, like Durham, the county did not disclose the number of permit denials.

And in Johnston County, 695 people have been denied permits of the 22,000 applied for in the last 15 years.

Steele says even if more background checks make no difference, something has to be done.

"What we're doing is not working. We know that," Steele said.

Derick Waller

Derick is a reporter for WNCN covering crime, education, politics and just about everything in between. He has a knack for adapting to any story and consistently delivers information quickly across multiple platforms. More>>

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