Schumer’s gun proposal may face heavy opposition as gun rights bills gain traction across U.S.
On Wednesday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) appeared alongside New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a New York police station to announce his intention to soon introduce a gun control bill in the U.S. Senate. The bill would tighten background check requirements for firearms purchasers across all 50 states and close the controversial gun show loophole that allows people in 33 states to legally buy guns with no waiting period and without first undergoing a background check.
Schumer and his staff are still in the drafting stage, but the New York senator has shared salient details of the bill, which currently has no co-sponsors in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. It would cut funding to states that fail to comply with all aspects of the federal background check system, create a national do-not-sell database of people not legally eligible to own guns and require both licensed dealers and private sellers to perform a background check on anyone seeking to buy a gun.
The first of those three is likely a response to the results of an AP review that were released last week. The review found that 26 states have thus far not fully complied with a 2008 federal law passed in the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre requiring all states to furnish mental health records to the national background check system. Of those 26 states, nine failed to provide a single name in two years. The remaining 17 all provided fewer than 25 records, a figure several thousand times smaller than where it should be, according to National Institute of Mental Health statistics stating that about 6 percent of Americans, or more than 18 million people, suffer from a serious mental illness. Already, the states that have failed to supply records could be hit with a 3 percent cut in federal justice funding; Schumer’s proposed bill would up that to 25 percent.
The latter two aspects of the bill are Schumer’s response to what he feels are lenient regulations regarding private gun sales. All states prohibit the sale of handguns to minors, felons, illegal immigrants, the mentally ill and disabled and drug addicts. However, “gun show loophole” laws in many states make it easy for even those legally prohibited from buying a gun to do so without seeking out the black market.
Such laws are commonly known as “gun show loopholes” because of the infamous ease of legally obtaining firearms without a background check at gun shows, but they in fact apply to any sale of a gun not made through a licensed dealer. By claiming to be selling guns from a personal collection and not being in possession of enough firearms to make that claim unlikely, anyone can legally sell guns to anyone else without performing a background check, as long as the guns in question aren’t of the type that require a federal license under the National Firearms Act (those being automatic weapons and sawed-off shotguns and rifles, as well as silencers and explosives) and the sale doesn’t somehow cross state lines. In all, 33 states allow private sales without any regulation, another four allow private sales with no background check for long guns such as rifles, and one, Florida, has different laws from county to county. In just twelve states are background checks required for all gun purchases: seven whose laws do so explicitly and five where gun owners need permits whose application processes include a background check.
Although state laws still make it illegal to sell a gun to someone legally barred from owning firearms, in states with no background check requirements, that law is virtually unenforceable in private sales. Gun advocates argue that the presence of legally acquired private sale guns is negligible in crime. However, a U.S. General Accounting Office report from 2009 indicates that the biggest problem with gun show loopholes may not be domestic at all. The GAO reveals that over 87 percent of all drug cartel weapons seized by police in Mexico were acquired legally from gun shops and gun shows in the U.S. and smuggled across the border. Of the four border states, only California does not have the gun show loophole built into its state firearm laws.
Schumer was forthcoming on many aspects of his intended bill during Wednesday’s event, but one aspect of it that he has not yet made entirely clear is the “do-not-sell list” provision, which he says would “provide greater incentive for reporting individuals who should not have access to guns.” Presumably, this is to address cases like that of alleged Tucson gunman Jared Loughner, who was assessed as at-risk by several professors and peers but never legally declared mentally incompetent or committed to a mental health institution, voluntarily or otherwise. But privacy and civil liberties advocates will surely bristle at the notion of any citizen being able to report another to a national database of potentially dangerous people. Whether or not the bill as drafted will address this remains to be seen.
Yet Despite Schumer’s enthusiasm about the bill, if the national tenor of the gun control conversation is any indication, he may not find much support for it in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives (if indeed it makes it out of the Senate). The American Independent News Network has previously reported on legislative attempts in Colorado and Texas to allow concealed weapons on the grounds of educational facilities, as well as a ballot initiative being pushed by a political action committee in Florida that would eliminate all permits for gun ownership and concealed carry. According to Florida state records, the ballot initiative still has yet to receive a single signature, but that’s no indication that such ideas exist only on the fringe of American society. A Utah bill allowing any legal gun owner to carry a concealed weapon without a permit stalled in committee this week, but its sponsor, Rep. Carl Wimmer (R-Herriman) is hopeful that he can get the bill passed after revising it. Meanwhile, Wyoming is set to pass just such a bill. The bill, which eliminates permits for concealed weapons, has passed the Senate and has overwhelming support (48 to 8) in a preliminary House vote. An amendment to the bill that would ban the intoxicated from carrying concealed weapons was voted down.