• The public wants background checks
    April 11,2013
     

    The New York Times said the following in an editorial:



    Today, the full Senate is scheduled to take its first procedural vote on a bill designed to keep guns out of criminal hands, more than three months after the school massacre in Newtown, Conn. In those few months, much of the urgency has seeped out of the search for solutions to gun violence. That return to complacency is reflected in the difficulty in reaching bipartisan agreement on which bill will reach the floor.

    Ideally, the Senate would approve a bill to require background checks for all gun sales, which would significantly improve the chances of preventing criminals and the dangerously mentally ill from buying guns. Currently, the checks are limited to people buying from licensed dealers, which misses the 20 to 40 percent of all gun sales made by those without a federal firearms license. That bill was approved by the Judiciary Committee last month, but it has picked up no votes from Republicans and is unlikely to survive the inevitable filibuster.

    But the Senate could still make significant progress by approving a compromise bill that Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., a gun-rights supporter, is negotiating with Republicans, which may be the most likely way to expand the current background-check system. Though the bill is weaker than it should be, it could win the support of Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., and possibly other Republicans, as well as Democrats from conservative states.

    Specifically, it would require background checks and records of buyers at advertised commercial sales of guns, including those at gun shows and on the Internet, a fast-growing market for weapons often used by those who would not qualify for a gun from a dealer.

    Though it closes the biggest loopholes, the bill would not require checks for unadvertised gun transfers between individuals, like from one family member to another. This removes the important principle that every gun sale should require a background check, but the number of such sales is small enough that the bill would still be effective.

    The White House and congressional Democrats hope that if the Manchin bill picks up enough Republican support in the Senate, it might stand a chance in the House. That possibility improved on Tuesday when a growing group of Republican senators said they would not support a filibuster of the bill intended to keep it from ever reaching the floor for debate.

    Though Republicans will still have opportunities to filibuster a final vote on the bill, the willingness to allow debate seems to demonstrate that lawmakers understand how much popular support there is for expanded background checks.

    The intense opposition of the gun lobby has already doomed the chances for a ban on assault weapons, so a background-check bill, combined with a prohibition on gun trafficking, may be the best Congress can do. It is critical that this opportunity not be lost to political cowardice.

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