During the last two weeks, the Senate Judiciary Committee made huge strides towards preventing senseless, indiscriminate carnage like that which occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School last year. It’s important that the full Senate keep up the momentum and vote for the bills that passed the committee. There is no reason for the full Senate to reject the bills and cave in to the pro-gun lobby as it has in the past. Such sane gun control measures as passed by the committee will equally protect both citizens and the Second Amendment.
First, the committee voted to appropriate $40 million to bolster school safety. The measure, if passed by the full Congress, would permit schools to apply for “Secure Our School” grants through the Justice Department. While $40 million spread around to the nation’s thousands of schools would amount to a pittance for each school, it might at least pay for a security assessment for schools that feel at risk, providing a blueprint on how to plug security vulnerabilities. State and local governments should supply whatever funding schools require to provide a violence-free environment for children.
Simple and inexpensive enhancements such as shatterproof windows, security cameras and secure locks and doors would go a long way in preventing deranged individuals from gaining access to schools. The federal government spent $8.1 billion on the Transportation Security Administration in 2012 to make sure the nation’s airports are safe. The TSA spent $50 million on new uniforms alone in February. Surely our schools deserve minimal funding to implement a similar measure of safety for its most vulnerable population.
Second, the committee voted to charge with a felony anyone engaged in “straw purchases”— where an individual buys a gun for someone who is prohibited from doing so. Such ruses have made a mockery of background checks that are supposed to prevent criminals from procuring guns. Those who place guns in the hands of murderous criminals should be treated as accessories to a crime.
Third, by a 10–8 vote, the committee voted to reinstate the assault-weapons ban. The bill would disallow the sale of ammunition clips that hold more than 10 rounds and the sale of military-style assault weapons. A similar ban had been already been in place under the Bush administration, but expired in 2004. The reinstatement of the ban would impede the ability of madmen to mow down people in minutes with high-capacity magazines as happened in Newtown and in Aurora, Colorado. There is good reason that some weapons are designated as military-assault rifles. They are meant to be used by the military, by soldiers fighting against the heavy firepower of an enemy. They have no place in the hands of civilians who need a weapon for self-protection or for hunting. The Second Amendment doesn’t grant civilians the right to their own machine guns, fighter planes or Bradley fighting vehicles. The Bushmaster assault-rifle Adam Lanza used to fatally shoot 26 people in Newtown was designed for use by NATO.
Fourth, and perhaps most controversial, the judiciary committee passed a measure, proposed by Senator Schumer (D-NY), to enforce background checks on all gun purchases. Background checks are already required by law on sales by gun dealers, but the Schumer bill would extend the law to include all gun transactions, including those between private individuals. The proposed bill would also require vendors to perform the background check with the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Dealers would be required to keep a record of the transaction for 20 years.
Schumer’s proposal is important because it would plug a .457 magnum–sized loophole that criminals and the mentally ill have been using to procure guns. An estimated 40 percent of gun sales are between private individuals, many of which take place at gun shows and over the internet. The absence of mandatory background checks and recording of those sales has made it difficult for law enforcement officials to track weapons used in crimes.
Ranking Republican judiciary member Iowan Senator Charles Grassley said he objected to the measure because he feared such transaction records would ultimately give the government the means to confiscate weapons. Such a fear is thinly-veiled nonsense. Schumer’s bill explicitly says no registration in a centralized database will be required, and even if it were, the government registers cars, corporations, drugs and many other things it believes are necessary to ensure a safe environment for its citizens. No one seems to worry that their cars will be confiscated because they have license plates.
Yes, it’s true that some criminals will find a way to get guns, but Congress has to do its best to make it as difficult as possible for killers to get their hands on them. The focus of this flurry of legislation is not to undermine the Second Amendment and the right to self-protection; rather, it is to undermine those who intend to commit mass murder.