Mr. President, as most of my colleagues here in the Senate know, I am a proud gun owner and an A-rated lifetime card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association.
I agree wholeheartedly with the mission of the NRA – which is to defend the Second Amendment rights of all law-abiding Americans, to promote firearms and hunting safety and marksmanship and to educate the general public about firearms.
I carry my NRA membership card with me everywhere I go. I’ve got it with me now.
And ever since I became a member, I have read all the magazines and all the bulletins they have sent me – and I never had any reason to question their credibility.
So I was surprised when the latest alerts from the NRA was filled with misinformation about the firearms background check legislation that Senator Toomey and I are trying to get the Senate to pass.
The NRA is telling its members that our legislation would – and I quote – “criminalize the private transfer of firearms by honest citizens, requiring lifelong friends, neighbors and some family members to get federal government permission to exercise a fundamental right or face prosecution.”
Not a word of that is true, Mr. President.
WHEN BACKGROUND CHECKS WERE REASONABLE
Now, I remember when the NRA used to feel a lot different about background checks – and it wasn’t that long ago.
Back in 1999, their executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, testified before Congress that background checks were reasonable.
In fact, he said it over and over and over again – and I quote:
“We think it's reasonable to provide for instant checks at gun shows just like at gun stores and pawn shops.”
“We think it's reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone. That means closing the Hinckley loophole so the records of those adjudicated mental ill are in the system.”
“We think it’s reasonable to make gun show instant checks just like gun store instant checks.”
How is it “criminalizing” now to do criminal and mental health checks on gun buyers and it wasn’t back then in 1999? What has changed? Absolutely nothing.
Look, I would be okay with the NRA making the case that, well, we thought background checks were reasonable, but the government didn’t do them right and didn’t enforce them. Because the government didn’t – and that’s one of the things our legislation is going to fix.
But I’m not okay with the NRA – or any organization, for that matter – deliberately putting out false information about our legislation just to pump up political opposition to it or just to pump up their membership rolls and dues accounts.
So I would hope that whoever at the NRA put out the untrue information about our legislation – would correct it as quickly as possible.
I don’t want my friends to lose their credibility, because in this town, once you lose your credibility, you’ve got nothing.
Mr. President, it is simply not true that our legislation criminalizes private transfers of guns among family, friends and neighbors, as Senator Toomey and I explained in detail here on the Senate floor yesterday.
But I don’t have to explain it to the NRA. They’ve read the bill. They know the facts. So maybe this was just a mistake.
WHY WE ARE HERE
Mr. President, I understand that some of our colleagues believe that supporting our legislation is risky politics. But I think they’re dead wrong because about 90 percent of Americans support the idea of criminal and mental illness background checks for gun sales. And it isn’t often that we get to vote on any issue with that level of support from Americans.
But even if the politics are risky, remember the words of Andrew Jackson: “The brave man inattentive to his duty is worth little more to his country than the coward who deserts in the hour of danger.”
Old Hickory also said: “One man with courage makes a majority.”
I didn’t get into public service as a career – I did it to fix things. And right now few things need fixing more than our gun laws as they relate to background checks for gun show and Internet sales.
AL QAEDA AND GUN SHOWS
Our gun laws are so outdated and so out of whack that even Al Qaeda has figured out how to exploit them to arm themselves against us.
I’m sure all of you have seen the video of this guy – Al Qaeda terrorist Adam Gadahn – telling sympathizers how to get their hands on guns in America, with almost no questions asked.
He says – and I quote – “America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check and, most likely, without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”
Mr. President, our legislation will shut this guy up.
A GUN SHOW THAT NEVER ENDS
If Al Qaeda’s enthusiasm for gun show sales isn’t chilling enough, you should read today’s New York Times article about how easy it is for criminals to buy and sell guns on the Internet.
Not only is it quick and easy, it’s anonymous – you don’t have any idea who you are dealing with. One of the people in the article describes these Internet sales as a “gun show that never ends.” And I would add – never closes.
The Internet is a vast marketplace for guns. In 2000, the Department of Justice estimated that 80 online firearm auction sites and approximately 4,000 other sites offered guns for sale.
That was more than a dozen years ago, and we all know how the Internet has expanded since then.
The online market may now exceed gun shows in terms of sales volume. For example, the National Shooting Sports Foundation surveyed owners of modern sporting rifles in 2010 and found that 10 percent of them had purchased their firearms at gun shows whereas 25 percent had purchased them online.
COMMON SENSE – MYTH AND FACT
Believe me, I understand the political stakes for my colleagues who come from states with strong gun cultures. I come from West Virginia, and no state has a higher regard for the Second Amendment rights to bear arms than my state.
But West Virginians also are guided by common sense. And they are persuaded by the unvarnished facts. And when they read our legislation, they understand that all we are doing is using common sense to protect the safety of the public, especially our kids, and, at the same time, protect the Second Amendment rights to bear arms.
John Adams once said that “facts are stubborn things.” And I’m pretty stubborn myself. So I’m going to go through our legislation again and tell you what is the myth out there and what is fact about our legislation.
Let’s start with the myth that the NRA is repeating to their members.
MYTH: This legislation will require background checks when a gun owner sells, loans or gives a firearm to a relative, neighbor or friend.
FACT: Current law exempts such transfers from background checks, and our bill does nothing to change that.
You can loan your hunting rifle to your buddy without any new restrictions or requirements. Or you can give or sell a gun to your brother, your neighbor, your coworker without a background check.
You can post a gun for sale on the cork bulletin board at your church or your job without a background check. We are not going to do anything to turn law-abiding gun owners into criminals.
MYTH: Nothing in this legislation would have prevented or will prevent any tragic mass shootings in the future.
FACT: We have no way of knowing what future tragedies will be prevented by our bill, and that is the point. But it’s just common sense that keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill will save lives.
As one of the Newtown parents, Francine Wheeler, said “please help us do something before our tragedy becomes your tragedy.”
Our bill will ensure that States get records into the NICS database.
We know that if all the proper records were in NICS, as our amendment provides, it would have prevented the Virginia Tech shooting, where the shooter should have been a prohibited purchaser but was not because the records were not in the system.
Our bill will prevent FELONS from buying guns at gun shows and online. It would also prohibit the types of transactions that AL QAEDA suggested in a promotional video. It would require background checks on all transactions online and at gun shows.
MYTH: Our amendment creates or will lead to a national registry.
FACT: Current law prohibits the creation of a national registry. Our bill reiterates the prohibition in three separate places. Let me read them:
Section 122(c) prohibits the establishment of a national gun registry.
“(c) PROHIBITION OF NATIONAL GUN REGISTRY.—
Section 923 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:
‘‘(m) The Attorney General may not consolidate or centralize the records of the—‘‘(1) acquisition or disposition of firearms, or any portion thereof, maintained by—
‘‘(A) a person with a valid, current license under this chapter;
‘‘(B) an unlicensed transferor under section 922(t); or
‘‘(2) possession or ownership of a firearm, maintained by any medical or health insurance entity.’’.
Section 102. Findings. Congress reaffirms prohibition of a national firearms registry.
“(2) Congress supports and reaffirms the existing prohibition on a national firearms registry.”
Section 103. Rule of Construction. This section clearly states that the bill does not allow for the creation or establishment of a national registry.
“Nothing in this title, or any amendment made by this title, shall be construed to—
expand in any way the enforcement authority or jurisdiction of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; or
allow the establishment, directly or indirectly, of a Federal firearms registry.
Our bill also creates a serious penalty for any government employee seeking to misuse records to create a registry: a felony with up to 15 years in prison.
MYTH: Our amendment imposes a universal background check.
FACT: This is not a universal background check. Our bill simply extends existing law to apply to all commercial sales, including and gun shows and online. Private sales will not require background checks.
Again, all family transfers would not require background checks. Friends, Family and Neighbor sales would all be allowed without a background check. Also, loaning your gun to your buddy for the weekend hunting trip would still be allowed.
MYTH: A doctor can put me into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) because I am being treated for PTSD or some other mental condition.
FACT: A doctor cannot put someone into NICS under current law or under our bill.
A person has to be adjudicated as mentally ill by court before being placed into NICS. Our bill does not change current federal medical privacy law, it simply clarifies that States are not prohibited from entering mental health records into NICS.
MYTH: This amendment would unfairly burden veterans.
FACT: Our amendment provides additional protections for our veterans:
This amendment fixes an outdated law and allows active duty service members and their spouses to purchase guns in their home state, as well as their duty station. Current law unfairly restricts them to only buying guns in the state where they are stationed.
This amendment requires notification of veterans who have already been placed in the (NICS) by the Department of Veterans Affairs; some veterans may not even know they are in NICS. Once they are notified, the amendment allows every veteran in NICS to appeal for removal. There are currently over 150,000 veterans in NICS because they have had a fiduciary – someone to manage their finances – designated for them.
This amendment creates a fair appeals process for veterans who may have been wrongly or automatically categorized as unfit to own or purchase firearms.
This amendment establishes an appeals process for veterans by allowing them to appeal to an independent board or a court before being placed in the NICS system.
This amendment protects a veteran’s right to bear arms until he or she has exhausted the appeals process, which is different from the current system in which veterans are “guilty until proven innocent.”
MYTH: There is no need for a Commission on Mass Violence. Every bill currently before the Senate establishes studies of some sort.
FACT: Our bipartisan commission does not focus solely on guns. Instead, it will examine our culture of mass violence by bringing together acknowledged experts in the fields of firearms, school safety, media, and mental health to look at all the possible root causes of the problem.
As a nation, we must look at all aspects of our culture of violence. We must rethink our treatment of the mentally ill. We must redesign our schools to keep our kids safe. And we must challenge a popular culture that accepts stomach-churning violence in our movies and video games.
MYTH: Why create new background check requirements when current ones aren’t even being enforced?
RESPONSE: We agree that more background check violations need to be prosecuted, and our amendment contains the following language supporting increased prosecutions:
SEC. 102. FINDINGS.
Congress finds the following:
Congress believes the Department of Justice should prosecute violations of background check requirements to the maximum extent of the law.
SEC. 143. DUTIES OF THE COMMISSION.
(2) MATTERS TO BE STUDIED.—In determining the root causes of these recurring and tragic acts of mass violence, the Commission shall study any matter that the Commission determines relevant to meeting the requirements of paragraph (1), including at a minimum—
(J) the role of current prosecution rates in contributing to the availability of weapons that are used in mass violence;
We must also acknowledge that background checks do work in keeping guns out of the hands of people who should not have them.
Last year, 88,000 people were denied firearms when they failed a background check. Our amendment will ensure even more people who should not have guns do not get guns.
MYTH: Criminals will never get a background check.
FACT: We don’t expect criminals to submit to background checks—that is why they are criminals, and frankly, this argument is just silly.
Our amendment reduces the number of places where a criminal can buy a gun. Right now, a criminal can buy a firearm at a table or out of someone’s trunk at a gun show, through an online sale from the same state, or through a newspaper ad because no background check is required for these kinds of sales.
Our bill closes those avenues to criminals, making it harder for criminals to get guns. Period.
BENEFITS FOR GUN OWNERS
I have told my friends at the NRA that they should like this legislation not only because it will keep guns out of the dangerous hands, but it also benefits gun owners in a number of ways.
It prohibits the Attorney General from consolidating or centralizing records into a National Gun Registry. Any person who knowingly does so would be imprisoned for 15 years.
It clarifies and fixes interstate travel laws for sportsmen traveling long distances across states to hunt or shoot.
It allow dealers to complete transactions at gun shows that take place in a state for which they are not a resident.
It includes a requirement that if a background check at a gun show does not result in a definitive response from NICS within 48 hours, the sale may proceed. After four year check would clear in 24 hours. Current law is three business days.
It requires the FBI to give priority to finalizing background checks at gun shows over checks at store front dealerships.
It authorizes use of a state concealed carry permit in lieu of a background check for all transfers with permits that expire every five years.
It would permit interstate handgun sales from dealers.
And it would allow active military to buy firearms in their home states.
FACTS AND EVIDENCE
Mr. President, those are the facts, and no amount of spin will change them. And in a debate this important to the course of our country, we need to begin with the facts.
Facts are indeed stubborn things. And as John Adams also said of them: “… whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”