U.S. Senate to explore expanded background checks
by Sarah Fay Campbell
New gun legislation has been a major issue on the federal level since the Dec. 14, 2012 massacre of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
On Thursday, almost five months since Sandy Hook, the first real action was taken on a new gun bill, when the U.S. Senate voted to end a filibuster and begin debate on a bill that would increase the types of gun sales that are subject to background checks.
The original bill would create “universal background checks.” The background checks would be required for almost all gun transfers, except gifts between immediate family members, transfers from an estate through a will, and temporary transfers. The bill would also crack down on “straw purchasers,” who knowingly buy guns for people who can’t pass a background check, and gun trafficking.
The first amendment to be debated will likely be the “Manchin/ Toomey,” amendment named after the two senators who crafted it — Joe Manchin III, D-West Virginia, and Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pennsylvania. The official name of the Manchin/ Toomey compromise is the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act. Manchin/ Toomey is widely expected to be grafted onto the bill, S.649.
That amendment would require background checks for gun purchases at gun shows that are not from licensed dealers (all licensed dealers must perform background checks) and for commercial sales advertised on the Internet or in a newspaper between individuals. Transfers between family ,friends and neighbors would be exempt.
The amendment would also require that all Americans who are prohibited from buying a gun would be entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Lastly, the Manchin/ Toomey amendment would create a National Commission on Mass Violence.
The bill was able to move forward after a 68 to 31 vote for cloture (calling for a vote on an issue). Several Republicans, including Georgia Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, voted in favor of cloture.
Both men have been ridiculed by gun rights advocates for their vote. Both have released statements reiterating their support for the Second Amendment.
Isakson said that a floor debate on the bill, “presents the best opportunity for supporters of the Second Amendment to offer and vote for amendments that will strengthen and protect the Second Amendment rights of Americans.” Isakson said he is committed to protecting the “unfettered” Second Amendment rights of Georgians and that he looks forward to reviewing the details of the proposals and debating gun control on the Senate floor.
Chambliss said he is “very much opposed to any bill that would infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans.” He believes the underlying bill being debated does violate those constitutional rights but that “this is a national issue that deserves a thorough Senate debate.”
Jerry Henry, executive director of Georgiacarry.org, was asked why his organization opposes expansion of background checks.
The biggest concern with the current bill is the amendments that can be put on it, he said, including the “so-called assault weapons ban.”
“Then they’ll get into the magazine capacity,” Henry said, and then there will probably be amendments that would keep people from buying certain firearms. “I just don’t see any stop to it,” he said. “I think it is a mistake for our senators, who are supposed to be conservative, to sit up there and let the thing pass.”
Background checks won’t stop bad guys from getting guns, according to Henry.
“The people that are going to do those dastardly deeds with guns are not going to go through background checks,” he said. And, “how can you enforce a background check on a stolen gun?”
“There is no criminal walking the street that I know of willing to submit themselves to a background check,” Henry said.
Henry said there have been studies that found the majority of guns used in crimes were stolen or “illegally obtained in some other way.”
In 2010, according to FBI statistics, there were some 6 million background checks run for gun purchases, Henry said. A little more than 75,000 of those people were initially rejected. After initial rejection, “there were 4,500 that were deemed worthy enough to follow up on,” Henry said, and just 35 were prosecuted for attempting to buy a gun when they knew they weren’t eligible. Many of the initial rejections were false positives.
Trying to administer universal background checks on person-to-person purchases is going to “be nothing but pure heck and it’s also going to add to the cost of everything,” he said.
Then there is the issue of enforcement. To know that people were obeying the new laws on the background checks, there would have to be some kind of gun registration, Henry said. And “we know how well that worked out in Germany and China.”
The Manchin/ Toomey amendment specifically forbids creation of a federal gun registry; however it doesn’t specify how the background check requirements would be enforced.