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Patrick Leahy
Patrick Leahy
The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to begin the "mark-up" of four pieces of proposed firearms legislation Thursday, but Chairman Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat, announced a one-week delay when the committee got together this morning. That will give the four members of an ad hoc bipartisan committee time to hammer out  their differences on a fifth piece of legislation—universal background checks for all gun buyers. Expanding background checks is by far the most popular newly proposed gun legislation in the wake of the 12/14 elementary school slaughter in Newtown, Connecticut. Poll after poll has shown 90 percent of Americans favor the idea.

The ad hoc committee drafting the background check legislation has been stymied by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma over the matter of record-keeping. The National Rifle Association, the gun industry's well-funded mouthpiece, and others have claimed that another member of the committee, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, wants to set up a national gun registry. Schumer's office denies this.

Record-keeping of background checks has long been anathema for many gun-rights advocates and other gun owners who see it as a prelude to gun confiscation. Under current federal law, records of people who pass a check by the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) that is required for any gun purchases from licensed dealers must be destroyed within 24 hours. Previously, it was 90 days.

Unlike the government, gun dealers are required to keep a record of all their firearms transactions for 20 years. But these are in no way centralized. Federal law already prohibits centralization or any effort to build a federal gun registry. Despite NRA paranoia, any registry is off the table in negotiations.

But for two weeks committee negotiations have been stalled because Coburn says there should be no record of any kind kept of private sales. This sticking point is said to have sent gun-friendly Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia looking for other Republican NRA members in the Senate who might be more flexible in crafting the universal background check legislation. The pace of negotiations has also apparently irked the White House and elicited criticism from Vice President Joe Biden, who has been President Barack Obama's point man on guns since the Newtown massacre. To a meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General on Wednesday, Biden said:

“The proposals they’re arguing as they mark up the legislation in the United States Senate are so porous that they are going to allow a truck to be driven through the holes in the legislation they are proposing, loaded with tens of thousands of weapons,” Biden said. [...]

“For example, they come up with a system where there’s a new version of an instant-check system where you go online and check if you’re qualified and then you go to the buyer in a private sale,” Biden said. “But guess what? They want the law to say no record would be kept. How in the hell would you know if that transaction would be real if no record can be kept?”

Right now, background checks are only required of buyers who get their firearms from a federally licensed dealer. If you buy a gun from a friend or neighbor or an unlicensed seller at a gun show, no check is required. A universal background check would change that, covering all private sales as well. To see more about the proposed law and the other legislation that will marked up next Thursday, please continue reading below the fold.
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To enforce the background-check law, however, as Biden says, somebody has to keep records of private sales the way federally licensed dealers do now. Would it be the private seller or someone else?

One method being considered, according to individuals with knowledge of the negotiations, is setting up an internet website where sellers and buyers could meet to conduct the background check or federally licensed dealers could charge a small fee to conduct them. Records of these sales could then be turned over to a licensed dealer, kept by the seller or given to the gun manufacturer. The NICS's record of private-sale background checks would be destroyed within 24 hours, the same way it now destroys its records of sales through licensed dealers.

With Coburn seemingly unbending, it's uncertain whether the week's delay in marking up gun legislation will produce the awaited draft for a universal background check.

If nothing comes to fruition by then, the Judiciary Committee will be looking at the following bills and possibly Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal's Ammunition Background Check Act of 2013:

S.150, Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 (Sen. Dianne Feinstein)

S.54, Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013 (Sen. Patrick Leahy)

S.374, Protecting Responsible Gun Sellers Act of 2013 (Sen. Chuck Schumer)

S.146, School Safety Enhancements Act of 2013 (Sen. Barbara Boxer)

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Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Thu Feb 28, 2013 at 09:45 AM PST.

Also republished by Shut Down the NRA and Daily Kos.

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