March 19, 2013

Background check gun bill falters in Senate

Ask police chiefs -- we asked ours -- about the need for background checks on gun buyers. They will tell you universal background checks would reduce the number of guns ending up in the wrong hands.

"To me, it's a no-brainer," Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy told us last week. "We should have background checks on every person who buys a gun to prevent criminals, terrorists or, where appropriate, mentally ill people from getting guns.

"It would stop criminals from buying guns at gun shows. It would help prevent illegal guns from getting into the hands of criminals."

Police chiefs want universal background checks. So do voters. A CBS News/New York Times poll in January showed 92 percent of poll respondents support universal background checks. A Fox News poll showed 91 percent support from registered voters. Polls by Gallup and USA Today/Pew Research Center show the same results: overwhelming support for federal background checks.

And yet, a proposal in the U.S. Senate to mandate federal background checks on all gun purchasers, including at gun shows, has stumbled out of the gate.

Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who packs an A rating from the National Rifle Association, pulled his support of a background check bill he had been negotiating with Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York. Coburn got hung up on record keeping. Under the bill, all guns sold at gun shows would require a background check, and the seller would keep a record of the sale -- just as federally licensed retailers do now.

That record would not be turned over to the government. It would not become part of a national database. It would not lead to mass gun confiscation.

It would, however, create a paper trail. Requiring record keeping is key to enforcement of background checks. Without it, there would be no way to know whether gun sellers were doing background checks. The records also would give law enforcement additional tools to investigate illegal gun trafficking.

The bill would close the so-called gun show loophole -- finally, after decades of debate.

At Coburn's request, the bill includes exceptions for transfers of guns between family members. It exempts concealed carry permit-holders from a background check. It includes the ability to conduct a background check online, for convenience.

But he still backed out.

Schumer wanted Coburn as a co-sponsor to ease the bill's journey in the Senate. With a pro-NRA co-sponsor, the bill would be less radioactive for other Republicans.

That's Washington-speak for: "We're too scared of the NRA to support anything that looks, feels, tastes or smells like it might stop anyone from getting a gun."

Even in the wake of the murders of 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn., Coburn and other members of Congress who march to the NRA tune won't help to keep guns out of the hands of criminals or the mentally ill. Their allegiance to the gun lobby is stronger than their duty to the public.

Schumer is now searching for another Republican sponsor. Republican Sen. Mark Kirk is on board, as long as the exceptions requested by Coburn remain in the final version of the bill.

Kirk and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin co-sponsored a gun bill that advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Their bill toughens penalties and makes it easier to prosecute gun trafficking and straw purchases, buying a gun for someone who can't legally buy a gun.

Their bill would directly target the flow of guns to criminals. Yet only one Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, voted for it in committee. Seven Republicans -- John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch of Utah -- voted "no."

Even in the wake of Newtown, even after national attention on the tragic slaying of Hadiya Pendleton in Chicago, the gun lobby and its minions in Congress fight laws that are expressly designed to keep guns from criminals.

Members of the House and Senate, take a moment. Remember whom you're supposed to protect. Hint: It's not the group with the three-letter acronym.

Editorial by the Chicago Tribune

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