The Corner

Senate Committee Okays Background-Check Bill

So says the AP. The committee also put off action on assault weapons.

It’s gotten a lot of coverage, but this is basically a non-event. The bill will probably change significantly before the full Senate votes on it — it represents the Democrats’ ideal law, and a bipartisan group is trying to hammer out a different version. Interestingly, the version of the bill that was initially referred to the committee was just a list of findings — there was no actual law there. In his statement summarizing the problems with the bill, Senator Chuck Grassley says that “the language has changed. It is still not ready to be marked up. But we are marking it up anyway.”

Apparently, the new version of the bill closely tracks the Fix Gun Checks Act of 2011, which included some exemptions for gun transfers between family members and allowed dealers and law-enforcement agencies to charge a $15 fee for conducting background checks. As Grassley notes, even with the exemptions the bill would make loans between family members illegal and make gun-safety instruction difficult.

As I’ve written here before, I’m sympathetic to the idea of expanding background checks, but the practical obstacles are huge. Many crime guns are procured through private transfers, and with no background-check requirement it’s very difficult to prove that someone knowingly sold guns to a criminal. But it will be hard to make a law that works against criminals without overburdening law-abiding gun owners. And even harder to pass one if Democrats insist on pushing ahead with a bill with no Republican support.

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