Giffords testifies on gun violence as her husband looks on during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. The former congresswoman was severely wounded during a mass shooting at a constituent event in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011.
“I know gun store owners in Vermont. They follow the law and conduct background checks to block the conveyance of guns to those who should not have them. They wonder why others who sell guns do not have to follow these same protective rules,” Leahy said. “I agree with these responsible business owners.”
A bipartisan group of senators — including Democrats Charles E. Schumer of New York and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, along with Republicans Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Mark S. Kirk of Illinois — is discussing legislative proposals to expand background checks. Schumer said at Wednesday’s hearing that he is “hopeful that we are close to having legislation that we can introduce,” and he said such legislation “has a good chance of passing.”
Beyond the Republicans involved in those talks, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas also indicated at the hearing that he could be open to improved background checks. “Perhaps it’s time to consider our background check laws to see if they need to be updated,” he said.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., questioned why states are not doing more to submit records of disqualified purchasers to the federal database of individuals who are barred from buying guns — a database that dealers can access at the point of sale. Flake noted that his own state has more than 120,000 records of mentally ill individuals who are barred from buying guns but that Arizona has not shared those records with the federal database.
Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut who is married to Giffords and has co-founded a political action committee with her to push for stronger gun laws, testified that his top priority would be to strengthen background checks. “I can’t think of something that would make our country safer than doing just that,” he said.
LaPierre agreed that states should do more to contribute records to the database of barred purchasers. But he expressed opposition to expanding the background check system to cover private sales, saying it would be ineffective because criminals would find other ways to acquire firearms. He emphasized that the federal government rarely prosecutes those who attempt to buy guns illegally.
White House spokesman Jay Carney pushed back against that assessment at his briefing Wednesday. Carney did not dispute statistics cited by the NRA and other gun advocates about the relatively few cases brought against criminals who fail background checks. But he said that is not a reason not to require them for all gun purchases, calling the argument a “logical fallacy.”
The solution is not “either/or,” Carney said, noting that prosecutions as well as background checks can be improved.
Bipartisan Bill on Gun Trafficking
Meanwhile, the committee’s top Republican, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, said he could support an effort to crack down on gun traffickers or “straw purchasers,” who buy firearms for those who are banned from doing so.
“I do think, Mr. Chairman, that we may be able to work together to prevent straw purchasers from trafficking in guns,” Grassley said in his opening statement, adding that “there are some gaps in this area of the law that should be closed.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.