We all know the National Rifle Association is vehemently opposed to universal background checks (UBCs), which would require criminal and mental health background checks on all gun sales, even those made between private buyers and sellers.
In recent weeks, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre has iterated the beef the nation’s gun lobby has with UBCs.
“Don’t you be fooled. There is nothing “universal,” nor “reasonable” about it [UBCs]. They ought to stop pretending and stop calling it what it will never be. Criminals will never be a part of it, and I have come to believe that the adjudicated mentally incompetent [won’t either],” LaPierre said at the 2013 Western Hunting and Conservation Expo in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“This so-called universal background check that you’re hearing about is aimed at one thing: it’s aimed at registering your guns and, when another tragic opportunity presents itself, that registry will be used to confiscate your guns,” he continued.
While many gun owners have embraced LaPierre’s logic, Washington insiders claim that there is a growing schism between where the NRA’s position and where the rest of the gun industry stands relative to UBCs.
On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported:
Some of the gun lobby’s strongest allies are breaking with the National Rifle Association to support proposals that would expand background checks for private firearm sales.
In behind-the-scenes talks with congressional staff members and others, gunmakers, dealers and other Second Amendment advocates have offered support for more instant criminal background checks, buoying the hopes of gun-control supporters, including President Obama, who has put a top priority on extending criminal checks to private sales.
But is this true? Are pro-gun politicians, gun manufacturers and gun rights advocacy groups warming up to the idea of UBCs?
Well, quoted in the WP article was National Shooting Sports Foundation President Steve Sanetti, who said, “That’s more the NRA’s issue. From the commercial side, we’re already there, and we’ve been there, and we were the ones that have been the strongest proponents of an effective, complete background check.”
The implication was that the NSSF, the firearms industry trade association, had split from the NRA’s narrative of UBCs = registration = confiscation.
However, in a press release disseminated on Wednesday, the NSSF clarified Sanetti’s remarks, saying that “There is no conflict” between the NRA and the NSSF on UBCs.
In a video (which you can watch below) Sanetti says, “Regarding so-called universal background checks, or background checks that extend beyond retail sales or to private transfers such as a father passing on a favorite hunting rifle to his son, our big concern is one shared by millions of firearms owners — that enforcing checks of used firearm transfers between individuals will lead to the creation of a national registry of firearms, something that Congress has expressly prohibited.
“In addition, the current background check system would need to be greatly expanded at huge cost to handle the additional checks,” he continued.
In other words, the NSSF wants to strengthen background checks, as it says “Fix NICS” the (National Instant Criminal Background Check System), but not at the cost of a national registry.
This position seems to be one that is widely shared by many gun owners and gun rights advocates. Alan Gottlieb, the founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, voiced support for a UBC bill in Washington State that would mandate background checks for all gun sales but also prohibit the government from keeping records or setting up a registry (presumably, sales records would stay with the FFL who processed or facilitated the transaction between the two parites).
With respect to the Washington bill, Gottlieb said, “This is a good compromise with real give-and-take.”
In D.C., the lawmakers charged with creating the federal UBC bill – Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) – are still trying to strike the right balance.
The holdup appears to be the registry. Coburn has said repeatedly that he will not back any bill that establishes a registry. Meanwhile, Schumer contends that a government registry would make it easier for law enforcement to trace guns that were used in the commission of a crime.
(UPDATE: AP reported that talks between Coburn and Schumer have completely stalled).
In any event, and to make a long story short, there may be some room for negotiating a bill that would expand background checks to include private sales (with certain exemptions: family, close friends, etc.) both at the state and federal levels.
However, what is abundantly clear is that any UBC bill that seeks to set up a registry or extensive record keeping is going to attract the ire of many gun owners and be opposed by pro-gun politicians, the NRA, the NSSF and the rest of the gun industry.