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Terry H. Schwadron

March 3, 2019

The Senate now inherits two House-passed bills calling for background checks for all gun buyers and extending the time for those checks to complete, though prospects for passage are considered less than in the Democratic-majority House.

Though advocates see the measure as the most significant gun control measure in more than two decades, opponents, including the National Rifle Assn., see something else altogether. They see the start of a widespread attack on guns by Democrats or “Pelosi socialists” as one NRA video has it, and a general feeling that there is nothing about this bill that will leave people feeling safer, presumably the point of the bills.

Ironically, the bill is called the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, but with the exception of eight Republicans joining in, the bills were passed largely by Democrats, who lost two votes along the way.

In the unlikely event the Senate approves the measure, the White House has already signaled the President would veto the bill, should it reach his desk.

The arguments are pretty clean. Advocates say we should be running the checks to keep people with mental illness or social problems away from gun purchases. The opponents say, well, that already is happening in many states, but criminals are not buying their guns from authorized federal firearms dealers.

Indeed, the mass killers at Marjorie Stoneman High School and in Las Vegas did buy legal firearms, and pmay have filled out background checks, but were not barred from those purchases before they used them on unarmed students and concert goers. But a white supremacist in 2015 was able to buy a gun and kill nine churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., despite having a drug arrest that should have prevented him from getting the gun.

Public opinion polls show a large majority of Americans support background checks for gun buyers. Just last month, a Quinnipiac poll last month found 92% percent supported background checks for all buyers. The poll found strong support even when factoring in the political affiliation of poll respondents: 95 percent of Democrats, 94 percent of independents and 89 percent of Republicans were in favor of background checks

Guns remain our most difficult political problem to resolve because all the words we can bring to discuss guns really are euphemisms for the emotions and values that give rise to them. Rugged individualism and personal ethics demand that gun owners be left alone; anyone looking at the never-ending series of mass killings say we need to do Something to make it more difficult to obtain guns. Both sides now give political donations and backing to legislators who never can find the moral footing to insist on doing anything to rein in ownership of a wide variety of styles of guns and ammunition.

There was a lot of floor wrangling over some exceptions — family exchanges of guns, for example, which was accepted. By contrast, Democrats turned away a Republican attempt to force officials to tell ICE, the immigration enforcers, about cases where backgrounds showed contact with the criminal system.

At least these bills address the actual backgrounding requirement. Previous efforts at gun control had focused on the communication between crime collection databases and those reviewing existing background checks.

Depending on where you are standing then, Congress was “stepping up” (John Feinblatt, Everytown for Gun Safety) or “exteme,” and “making criminals out of law-abiding Americans” (Chris Cox, NRA Institute for Legislative Action).

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-CA, said expanded background checks would “help save lives.”

For a country with more guns in circulation than people in the country, the bill and the discussion about it were probably worthwhile. But don’t expect street violence to fade away as a result.


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