March 13 (Bloomberg) -- Representative Mike Thompson predicted legislation to expand background checks for firearms purchases will pass both chambers of the U.S. Congress, and urged “responsible gun owners” to speak out in support.
Thompson, a California Democrat leading a U.S. House panel on gun violence, told reporters today at a Bloomberg Government breakfast that failure to pass such legislation in the next few weeks would ignore the will of a majority of Americans who support universal background checks.
“I just can’t see how Congress could not respond to this when so many of the American people want a background-check bill,” said Thompson, a longtime hunter and gun owner. “Criminals and dangerously mentally ill individuals should not have access to guns, you can’t get there without having some sort of background check.”
Broadening the current system of background checks to private sales at gun shows and between non-family members is part of the package of proposals President Barack Obama offered to curb gun violence after the Dec. 14 shootings of 20 children and six school employees at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Obama’s call for banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines has strong opposition in the Republican-majority House and the Democratic-led Senate.
The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday approved on a party-line vote a measure to expand the background-check system created by the 1993 Brady Law. It would also require states to provide more criminal and mental health records to the national database for instant background checks.
The measure is opposed by the National Rifle Association, the nation’s biggest gun lobby that claims 4 million members, and by a number of Republicans in the Senate and House.
A Quinnipiac University poll conducted Feb. 27 to March 4 found that 88 percent of respondents, including 83 percent of Republicans, favor background checks for all gun buyers.
Republicans who oppose an expanded background-check law say that while it could prevent criminals from legally purchasing guns, the government’s focus should be on enforcing current laws. The background-check bill won’t be effective in curbing gun violence because criminals won’t submit to them, said Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, the Judiciary panel’s top Republican.
“Criminals do not comply with existing background-check laws,” Grassley said yesterday. “We should make sure existing laws are effective and enforced before we start enacting new ones.”
Some Republicans have expressed concern about a requirement that licensed gun dealers keep a record of their sales for 20 years to help law enforcement track firearms found at crime scenes. That rule, they say, may lead to a national gun registry that the federal government could ultimately use to confiscate guns.
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, whose committee oversees gun legislation, has said he opposes universal background checks and doesn’t plan to take up the issue.
Thompson said he doesn’t think Goodlatte’s plan to avoid a background-check debate “will come to fruition.”
A requirement for licensed dealers to maintain records of background checks has been in place for 40 years, and advocates are trying to broaden the law to end exceptions for private sales at gun shows and between non-family members, Thompson said.
“There’s been no gun confiscation as a result of it,” he said, and current federal law “says you can’t have a federal registry.”
“The fear factor has been used in the past to rally folks,” Thompson said. “It’s dishonest, intellectually dishonest. Nobody’s going to come steal your guns.”
NRA President David Keene has said an expansion of the law would be an onerous burden on rural gun owners who would have to travel long distances to find licensed dealers to perform a screening.
A new study by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that 98.4 percent of Americans live within 10 miles of a gun dealer. There are 58,344 federally licensed gun dealers in the U.S., nearly twice the number of post offices. Bloomberg is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
Thompson said as many as 50 to 80 House Republicans “when push comes to shove, would vote for a background-check bill” if the legislation advanced.
In a statement yesterday, Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the 1993 background check law has stopped more than 2 million criminals, domestic abusers and other prohibited purchasers from buying guns. Gross added that 40 percent of gun purchases aren’t subject to background checks because of exceptions for sales at gun shows, over the Internet, through classified ads and at flea markets.
Thompson said he has been disappointed by the NRA’s opposition to background checks.
He called on law-abiding gun owners to play a greater role in enacting tougher laws to protect their rights.
If most Americans who don’t own guns “think everybody who’s a gun owner, everybody who’s a hunter, is running around with 30-shot magazine and military-type of assault weapons, I think it’s going to lead to the demise of responsible sportsmen and women being able to have access to firearms and the ability to use them,” Thompson said.
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