Two influential senators, one from each party, are working on an agreement that could expand background checks on firearms sales to include gun shows and online transactions, Senate aides said Sunday.
If completed, the effort could represent a major breakthrough in the effort by President Barack Obama and his allies to restrict guns following last December’s massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn.
Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., could nail down an accord early this week, said the aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private talks. With the Senate returning Monday from a two-week recess, the chamber’s debate on gun control legislation could begin as soon as Tuesday, though it might be delayed if the lawmakers need more time to complete a deal, the aides said.
Expanding background checks to gun shows and online sales is one possibility that has been discussed, and the overall package, if completed, could still change, aides said. The senators are also discussing exempting transactions between relatives and temporary transfers for hunters and sportsmen, they said.
Mr. Obama renewed his call for Congress to pass a series of measures, including a ban on the manufacture and sale of new assault weapons, limits on high-capacity magazines and an expansion of the criminal background check system that currently covers only about 60 percent of gun sales.
But he openly demonstrated different expectations for the measures as Washington wages a bitterly divisive debate over the role of guns in society.
The president declared “universal background checks” to be supported by a “vast majority of Americans” and called for their quick passage in Congress. “There’s no reason why we can’t get that done,” he told the gathering of law enforcement officials.
But of the potential for a new assault weapons ban, the president said only that it “deserves a vote in Congress because weapons of war have no place on our streets.”
On Monday, White House aides again said the president was still pushing for the three measures, along with changes to the nation’s mental health system. But the president, top lawmakers in Congress and gun-control advocacy organizations appear nervous about the political chances of the assault weapons ban and eager to push for a better background check system.
Obama has not proposed a federal gun registry, which is currently barred under federal law. But LaPierre’s words-part fact, part falsehood, part paranoia-require careful parsing.
First the background: On January 16, Obama proposed a number of new gun control measures, including a new requirement “to require background checks for all firearm sales, with limited, common-sense exceptions for cases like certain transfers between family members and temporary transfers for hunting and sporting purposes.” The existing background check system requires new gun buyers to have their identities checked against an FBI database, called the NICS, to make sure they are neither felons nor mentally unfit under federal law. No records of buyer names or identities are retained. Under the White House proposal, all gun sales, with certain exceptions, would have to include a NICS check.
What’s more, the White House has clearly said Obama wants to carve out an exception for “cases like certain transfers between family members.” Though the specifics have yet to be unveiled, the Christmas gift from grandpa to grandson that LaPierre describes is unlikely to require a background check for the grandson.
So why does LaPierre claim that Obama wants a national federal registry for guns?
A spokesman for the NRA points me to comments that Obama made as a state senator in 2001, in an interview with the Chicago Defender. “Too many of these guns end up in the hands of criminals even though they were originally purchased by people who did not have a felony,” Obama said then. “I’ll continue to be in favor of handgun law registration requirements and licensing requirements for training.”
There is no record that Obama ever proposed such a registry on the federal level. In fact, during his first national campaign in January of 2008, Obama was asked about a federal firearm registry during a debate, and he basically ruled it out.
The killing of 27 people in Newtown, Conn., has focused the nation’s conversation on the issue of gun control. Legislators have announced they will revisit the federal ban on assault weapons which expired in 2004, while also looking to prohibit high-capacity magazines and to close loopholes that allow buyers to purchase firearms at gun shows without a background check.
However, mental health experts say there is something Congress must do immediately to keep the country safe and it has nothing to do with gun control-avoid the fiscal cliff.
The federal government has already cut public mental health services in the U.S. to the tune of $4 billion over the past five years and closed 4,000 psychiatric beds since 2008.
“Maybe that would be OK if we had replaced them with community services,” says Ron Honberg, the national director for policy and legal affairs at the National Alliance on Mental Health. “When you close hospitals and do nothing for the patients leaving them, it is a prescription for disaster.
Vesely says his sister, who was his best friend, is survived by him, another brother and their father.
“Smirnov illegally purchased the .40-caliber handgun he used to kill Jitka from a private seller whom he located through armslist.com, an online gun auction site owned by defendant Armslist, LLC,” the complaint states. “The website’s design facilitates illegal gun sales to unlawful gun buyers with no background checks and no questions asked. Armslist.com’s design also encourages and enables users to evade laws that limit the sale of firearms by private gun owners to residents of their own state by enticing prospective buyers to search for and find gun sellers throughout all 50 states. Indeed, the private seller in this case, a resident of Seattle, Washington, noted at the sentencing hearing for his role in Jitka’s death, that: (a) he had easily sold other firearms on armslist.com before selling the gun to Smirnov; (b) Smirnov paid him extra cash for the .40-caliber handgun because he lived out of state and therefore could not purchase the gun legally; and that (c) users of armslist.com could easily evade gun laws with a simple ‘click of a mouse.’ Armslist’s conduct was a proximate cause of Jitka’s death, and it, like Smirnov and the gun seller, must now be held accountable.”
Vesely claims that “a recent undercover investigation by the City of New York of online firearm sellers found that 62 percent of private gun sellers agreed to sell a firearm to a buyer who said that he probably could not pass a background check.
“In the undercover sting, more than half of Armslist’s gun sellers agreed to sell a gun to someone who said he could not pass a background check, in violation of federal law.”
Armslist calls its site a local classifieds list for guns, but “Armslist clearly intended the website primarily for illegal interstate gun sales,” Vesely claims.
In two instances, captured on video, private sellers were willing to sell a semi-automatic handgun to uncover investigators who told them they “probably couldn’t pass” a background check.
The sellers were willing “to break the law and endanger their fellow citizens just to make a quick sale,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said today.