Oct. 20 2015 05:59 PM

Congress stalls on universal background checks

Carol Landale

Would it surprise you that a poll taken earlier this year showed three out of four National Rifle Association members think the idea of gun background checks is on target? That large percentage makes a good bit of sense given that a whopping nine out of 10 American are for the idea. What defies logic, however, is why a bill like HR 3411 (the Fix Gun Checks Act of 2015) is sitting unsigned in Washington, D.C.

HR 3411 would close the loophole in federal law and require background checks on all gun sales—including firearms purchased at gun shows and in private transactions—as well as urge states to submit records of prohibited purchasers to the National Instant Check System (NICS).

There are a couple bills kicking around Congress, including HR 1217, which was essentially penned in 2013 and now has strong bipartisan support. HR 1217 only expands checks to commercial sales, and that's one reason national activist group The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has identified HR 3411 as the stronger bill.

The Brady Campaign has more than 80 chapters around the country, including two dozen in California. Membership is swelling. A growing chorus of backers, all chagrined about each and every one of the 150 school shootings that have occurred in the United States since the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy in December 2012, are calling for action.

The co-president of the San Diego Chapter of the Brady Campaign had a busy week. Carol Landale attended a fundraiser over the weekend that was attended by U.S. Rep. Susan Davis and San Diego City Councilmember David Alvarez. She also spoke at a University of San Diego conference on the topic of preventing gun violence.

Earlier in the week, Landale was part of a local press conference asking Congress to pass the House bill calling for universal background checks. One speaker at that press conference was San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Jerry Sanders. He's a Republican and formerly held the titles of San Diego Mayor and Chief of Police. "...Forty percent of those purchasing firearms are doing so in 'no questions asked' scenarios," noted Sanders.

U.S. Rep. Scott Peters, a Democrat, organized that press conference. "Children shouldn't have to fear that a crazy person with a gun is going to walk into their school and shoot them," said Peters. "Let's start with something simple: close loopholes in our background check system to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them."

Peters would welcome a vote on either House bill, according to a spokesperson.

Landale said she has no answer why, despite such seemingly overwhelming support, no bill has moved forward. "I can't answer that question," she said. "It's beyond my comprehension why we can't get anything done at the federal level."

Ironically, if HR 3411 passed it would bring the nation up to the current level of background checks mandated in California.

While the NRA leadership digs in its heels and continues to wield considerable financial and political pressure on a national level—seemingly because it fears if it gives an inch it will have to give a yard—the potential for more gun violence stands unabated. Background checks, most agree, will not eliminate school shootings completely. But they could lower the number of guns that might fall into the hands of the mentally ill, domestic abusers and criminals.

"The NRA's tune to its members continues to be 'the government wants to take away your guns,'" said Landale. "But the reality is that background checks are not about taking guns away. It's about making sure that the 90 guns out there for every 100 Americans don't fall into the hands of people who shouldnít have them."

Background checks are not a panacea but are a step in the right direction. Kudos to the Brady Campaign for attempting to eliminate the chance that tomorrow's news report doesn't lead with the death toll at your child's school campus.

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