NRA’s Keene Says Group Supports Some Background Checks

The National Rifle Association’s opposition to new U.S. laws to enhance background checks of gun purchasers isn’t absolute.

The largest gun lobby in the U.S. is a strong supporter of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the federal system used by licensed gun dealers, NRA President David Keene said today.

In response to questions from reporters, he was critical of expanding the system to sales at gun shows without opposing the expansion outright, saying the NRA rejects background checks that apply to private transfers of guns such as those between family members and neighbors.

“The NICS system, as it exists and if it were cleaned up, is not much of a burden to people,” Keene said in a breakfast in Washington sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. The NRA wants to improve the system, a network of databases run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, by adding the records of individuals adjudicated to be potentially mentally ill, he said.

Even as he expressed support for NICS, Keene said the system shouldn’t be applied universally or to private sales of firearms. “We are not willing to support measures we feel unduly burden innocent and law-abiding Americans, and on the other side do not have any real impact on the problem we’re trying to solve,” Keene said.

Enhanced background checks for gun buyers are among the proposals for curbing gun violence that President Barack Obama and his allies in Congress are supporting. Lawmakers are debating such measures after the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and six school employees.

New Laws

In an interview, Representative Carolyn McCarthy, a New York Democrat serving on a House panel making recommendations this month, expressed optimism that there could be consensus with the NRA on new background check laws.

While Keene was dismissive of suggestions that the NICS system be applied to sales of guns at gun shows, his chief concern was about creating a federal registry of weapons owners and mandated background checks of weapons transfers between family members and neighbors.

“Most people in this country, even today, get their firearms from their father or their grandfather, they inherit them,” he said. If background checks were made universal, they would apply to these types of transactions, he said.

‘Confiscation’ Precursor

The Fairfax, Virginia-based NRA “will continue to be very opposed to any kind of national gun registry system,” he said. “That is a precursor in many cases to confiscation” and forced government buybacks of guns, Keene said.

He also disputed claims by anti-gun violence advocates that 40 percent of firearms in the U.S. are sold without a background check because they take place privately, over the Internet or at gun shows. Keene said the percentage is based on a flawed 1997 survey.

Even so, when repeatedly asked by reporters whether the NRA could support expanded background checks at gun shows, Keene said it would be unnecessary or ineffective because of the imperfect nature of the NICS system and the government’s inability to enforce laws already on the books.

“I have not seen the specific proposals that have been made,” he said at one point.

-- Editors: Jodi Schneider, Justin Blum

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