What very few expected, however, was that a proposal to expand background checks of gun buyers to private sales would also run into serious trouble. But it has. Unless the sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, can manage somehow to achieve what hasn't been achieved after close to three months of effort—a compromise—the gun measure that continues to have overwhelming support from the American populace may also die the Senate.
And what a compromise to get all the Senate Democrats, the two independents and at least five Republicans on board would likely mean is that Schumer would have to kneecap the proposal by eliminating any record-keeping of private sales. From the get-go, Schumer has been adamant that without record-keeping, expanding background checks without keeping records would fatally weaken the proposal.
Over the weekend, it became clear to almost everyone who wasn't already convinced that Republicans are determined to block any new gun-control measures, including the broader background checks that Americans, including gun owners, support by a large percentage in poll after poll. Please continue to read about the impasse below the fold.
Five Republican senators—Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah—have informed Reid that they will filibuster any proposal that would "infringe on the American people’s constitutional right to bear arms, or on their ability to exercise this right without being subjected to government surveillance."
Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said on NBC Sunday that expanded background checks are a "bridge too far." Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina told Candy Crowley on CNN that he wouldn't join in a filibuster as long as Reid allow open amendments to the three-part gun bill that the majority leader plans to bring to the Senate floor next week. But he said one of those three parts—expanding background check to private sales—won't likely pass:
"I don't think so, I don't think it makes any sense," he said. "Fix the current system, don't expand it to individual transfers. Nothing we're talking about would have prevented Newtown from happening. The guy did not fail a background check."So, while Vice President Joe Biden continues every day to cajole, nudge and berate various senators on the issue and Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut continues to say a "sensible compromise" is possible and the Newtown murders created "an unstoppable momentum," he seems to be whistling in the dark.
One of the amendments Graham backs, along with Flake and Democrats Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, would clarify when cases of mental illness must be reported by the courts to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. This would, Graham says, close a big gap in NICS data and keep people from getting guns they shouldn't have.
This would plug a hole, to be sure. But the whole point of expanding background checks to private sales is to reduce the number of people barred from obtaining firearms under existing law from buying them in private transactions at gun shows and over the back fence. And that includes people who are dangerously mentally ill. Foes, however, claim the proposed expansion won't do any good because criminals will get around background checks by getting their guns from individuals who don't care about gun laws, in other words, other criminals. Or by theft.
Criminals, they say, don't even try to buy guns legally. But that's false, as NICS statistics prove: 1.9 million rejections of would-be purchases since the system was put into place. California's system of requiring that private sales be handled through federally licensed dealers stopped 6,000 prohibited people from buying guns privately in 2011.
And while Graham and others whine about the system now being ineffective, they don't ever point out that the National Rifle Association, the gun industry's mouthpiece, has actively done what it can to make sure it's ineffective. For instance, their lobbying led to NICS being forced to cut the time it is allowed to keep records of background checks from 90 days to 24 hours. A study has shown that his means some people can get guns who shouldn't have.
Indeed, as the Center for American Progress catalogued last month, the NRA has worked assiduously over the years to weaken every gun-control measure it can find elected officials at the state or federal level to take on. One way it does this is by getting riders attached to federal budget bills. Its latest effort on this score, already passed by the House but not yet the Senate, would end the rule imposed in 2010 by President Obama to require gun dealers to report any bulk purchases of assault weapons. These are sometimes buys by "straw" purchasers who pass the firearms on to people who cannot legally own them or across the border into Mexico where they are a favorite of that country's murderous drug cartels.
No matter what new federal gun-control measures are passed, if any, the NRA can be counted on to begin undermining them before the president's signature is dry.