Background checks may be ground zero for gun control

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NCC Staff
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An expanded background check system may be the one major gun control measure with a chance of passing through Congress, but its fate seems tenuous at best.


Since the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have pressed for expanded gun violence measures in several areas: assault weapons, high-capacity ammunition clips, expanded background checks, and expanded mental health programs.

It’s unlikely that there is enough support currently in Congress to pass legislation to ban assault weapons and high-capacity gun clips.

President Obama has issued a series of executive orders to address the problem of the mentally ill having access to guns. In Congress, some senators have proposed broader laws to devote more resources to mental health issues, while states are addressing the mental health problem in different ways. The sequester may affect the delivery of some mental health-related services.

It was the high-profile issue of expanded background checks for gun measures that appeared to have the most public support and traction in the Senate, which is taking the first pass at writing a law.

Last month, Constitution Daily looked at polling questions on guns from nine different sources, including Fox News, NBC, ABC, Pew Research, and Gallup. On average, 89 percent of those people polled wanted expanded background checks.

Support also seemed strong in the Senate, where four leading members were working toward a consensus bill on background checks.

New York Senator Chuck Schumer, Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois were concentrating on closing the “gun show loophole,” a provision that doesn’t require background checks for sales at private events.

But last week, Coburn said that progress was stalled over whether people who sell guns directly to others should be required to keep records of the sale, in the same way that licensed dealers handle a transaction.

Coburn said that was a dealbreaker for an expanded background check law.

Some Democrats believe keeping records of private sales is needed because current federal law requires licensed gun dealers to keep similar records.

Vice President Biden has also questioned the logic of having a universal background check law that didn’t require transaction records for private sales.

“They want the law to say no record would be kept,” Biden told the National Association of Attorneys General. “How in the hell would you know if that transaction would be real if no record can be kept?”

Later in the week, Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he would oppose expanded background checks.

The National Rifle Association also is on record opposing expanding background checks.

“My problem with background checks is you’re never going to get criminals to go through universal background checks,” said Wayne LaPierre, CEO for the NRA, told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in January. “None of it makes any sense in the real world.”

The NRA and Goodlatte are opposed to a record-keeping requirement for private gun sales because they believe it will lead to a national gun registry. Democrats counter that a national gun registry is illegal and that their efforts are in good faith to make sure background checks are enforced better.

For now, the Senate will likely consider separate bills on the assault weapon, ammunition clip, and expanded background check issues. Among the three, universal background checks appear to have the best chance of getting a close vote in the Senate. But some compromise solution will most likely be needed to have a chance in the House.

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