The Columbine and Pentagon shooters exploited a loophole that allowed them to purchase guns without a background check. Now their victims and their families are pressing their representatives for change.
There were calls to close it in the wake of the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School, and there were more calls to close it in 2007, following the shooting massacre at Virginia Tech. But so far, Congress has done nothing to address the gun show loophole, which allows unlicensed gun vendors to sell firearms without performing background checks on the buyers. And the inaction hasn’t gone unnoticed by some of the victims’ families.
Take Tom Mauser, whose son Daniel was killed 11 years ago tomorrow at Columbine. He’s got a letter running today in both the the Denver Post and Boulder Daily Camera urging Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to put his weight behind the Senate proposal that would close the gun show loophole.
[Congress1] “Shortly after the tragedy at Columbine, 70% of Coloradans voted to close this dangerous loophole, but in many other states the loophole remains — including every state surrounding Colorado,” Mauser writes. “That means that Coloradans can still easily be victimized by guns brought here from other states. We need a federal law to close the Gun Show Loophole for good, just like we have in Colorado.”
Sen. Michael Bennet, Colorado’s other upper-chamber Democrat, has endorsed the proposal, but Udall has so far resisted. A call to Udall’s office requesting comment was not immediately returned.
He’s not the only Democrat being targeted today. Six voices related to the Virginia Tech tragedy — including a survivor, and parents of both survivors and those killed — have a letter of their own in today’s Richmond Times Dispatch, calling on Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner, both Democrats of Virginia, to sign on to the same bill.
“Everyday in the United States, 35 people are murdered with guns — that’s a Virginia Tech sized massacre every single day,” the parents write. “We have seen first hand the incredible toll that gaps in the federal background check system have on public safety … Don’t let another day go by.”
Calls and emails to Webb’s and Warner’s offices were not immediately returned.
Under current law, licensed gun dealers are required to do background checks to ensure that prospective buyers are legally eligible to own firearms. Felons, illegal immigrants and the severely mentally ill, for example, are prohibited from owning guns. These guidelines apply to licensed dealers in all contexts, including gun shows. But unlicensed dealers at gun shows — or anywhere else — are under no obligation to follow them.
The Columbine shooters bought three of their guns by exploiting the loophole. More recently, last month’s Pentagon shooter did the same, purchasing at least one of his firearms at a Nevada gun show despite a history of severe mental illness that might have prevented the sale had the vendor done a background check.
Gun reform has been a thorny issue for the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress. And the reason is clear. Although Democrats hold significant majorities in both chambers, they owe those gains largely to more moderate members, who in recent elections have won seats in a number of conservative-leaning, historically Republican districts. Indeed, when Attorney General Eric Holder last year announced his support for renewal of the assault weapons ban, 65 House Democrats wrote to the White House attacking the proposal. And that was in a non-election year.
“Law-abiding Americans use these guns for all the same reasons they use any other kind of gun — competitive shooting, hunting and defending their homes and families,” the Democrats wrote.
But don’t accuse Congress of doing nothing in the area of gun reform. This week, the House is expected to pass a D.C. voting rights bill that also includes language gutting the District’s strict gun control laws.
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