Some of those groups, notably Americans for Responsible Solutions established by former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, and the Michael Bloomberg-funded Mayors Against Illegal Guns, are looking ahead to 2014 with the intent of making opposition to new gun regulations a problem for some potentially vulnerable senators.
But several senators, including Democrats Chuck Schumer of New York, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, are talking seriously about bringing up a tweaked background-check bill this year along with, possibly, a federal gun-trafficking bill along the lines that Gillibrand already sponsored.
To many rank-and-file Democrats for whom passing new gun regulations is a low-priority matter, or worse, a guarantee that they will suffer at the ballot box, continuing the fight now may seem like a fool's errand. However, there is evidence in this poll and these polls that the American public still backs reasonable gun laws, particularly a broad background-check law and, more importantly, that they might punish elected leaders who oppose them.
But the way forward is not to tweak the existing background-check bill by weakening the already watered-down Manchin-Toomey proposal that fell way short of the 60 votes it needed. Better to start over with something simpler, fairer and easier to explain. And then push the proposal with tough ads that describe opponents as favoring the currently unfair system instead of backing one that treats all gun sales equally, fairly.
What would that proposal look like? Find out below the fold.
It would simply expand the existing system of background checks by requiring, with reasonable exemptions, private gun sales to be handled by federal firearms license-holders for a fee. These licensed dealers already must contact the government to run a background check on every sale they make. Last year, there was a record 19.6 million of these FBI background checks, run by the National Instant Criminal Background Check Systems. NICS, for short.
Extending NICS to the vast majority of private sales would require no complicated instructions, no gun registry, no new bureaucracy, no new system at all, and minor inconvenience and costs. Sellers and buyers could meet as they do now—at a gun show, at a gun range, over the back fence, at church, via advertising—and settle on a price for the proffered firearm. Then they would seek out one of the nation's 55,000 licensed dealers to handle the required background check and to record the sale for a fee.
The federal reporting requirement would remain the same. Within 24 hours, NICS would destroy records of all who pass background checks, just as it does now. Dealers would keep a record of all sales-for-fee for 20 years, just as they are required to do now for their own sales.
Reasonable exemptions could be allowed for transfers of firearm ownership among immediate family members and, perhaps, for people who live far from a licensed dealer as long as the latter is not allowed to become a giant loophole for the unscrupulous.
The bill might also mandate funding for upgrading the NICS operation to make it more user-friendly and for prosecuting buyers who tell substantive lies on their background-check forms. The low level of prosecutions is something gun-rights advocates complain about and they're right about that even though the numbers aren't nearly as low they seem once local prosecutions arising from these checks are accounted for.
Campaigning for this easy-to-explain proposal should focus heavily on the fairness issue. Why treat some gun purchases differently than others? Why force gun dealers to run background checks while letting off the hook other people, including many who sell dozens of guns a year but don't have licenses? Why make it easy for individuals that the vast majority of law-abiding gun owners do not think should own a firearm to buy one with no hassle?
Tweaking the weak Manchin-Toomey bill that both advocates of gun safety and gun rights had serious problems with is a waste of time. Starting fresh is by far the better approach.