WASHINGTON – A conservative senator is proposing to greatly broaden the background check system for firearms purchasers but require no records of the transactions as the Senate braced for votes on amendments to gun control legislation next week.
The plan by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., was one of several proposals Republicans were discussing in preparation for debate. In response to December’s elementary school attack in Newtown, Conn., which killed 20 children and six adults, the Senate is considering a Democratic bill backed by President Barack Obama that would expand background checks, strengthen laws against illegal gun trafficking and slightly increase school security aid.
The possible GOP amendments, described by aides and lobbyists, include one requiring states to recognize permits for carrying concealed weapons issued by other states. Many gun control advocates oppose the idea vehemently because some states’ standards for issuing the permits are considered weak, and such a provision, if approved, might cause some to rethink support for the overall bill.
It was unclear who might introduce it, but two lobbyists mentioned Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. His office declined to comment.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is working on a sweeping measure prodding states to send more records to the federal background check system, which is designed to prevent guns from going to criminals and those with serious mental health problems. Grassley’s plan might also help some troubled veterans become eligible for firearms, take steps against illegal gun sales and add federal resources for school safety and mental health programs.
It remains unclear what GOP amendments the Senate will vote on. The aides and lobbyists requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss publicly the still incomplete proposals.
Another proposal, by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Mark Begich, D-Alaska, is aimed at making sure people with certain mental problems are barred by background checks from getting firearms, the sponsors say. Critics say it would end up reducing mental health records available to the system and make it easier for some people with serious problems to get guns.
Coburn described his plan in a letter to colleagues. It seemed the proposal would face a difficult path to the 60 votes it would need to survive, if it is voted on at all.
Nonetheless, it was noteworthy because of its proposal to greatly expand the current background check system — an unusual view for a conservative with an A-rating from the National Rifle Association, which opposes the Democratic gun control bill.
The current system covers only transactions through licensed gun dealers. Under Coburn’s plan, the few exemptions would include sales to relatives and to people with state-issued permits for concealed weapons.
Coburn would not require any records be kept of background checks. Critics say that without records, there is no assurance the checks are actually performed.
In his letter, Coburn said records would not prevent gun crimes.
“Please consider that a record can only be used after a crime has already taken place,” he wrote.
Coburn and liberal Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., failed to cut a deal expanding background checks recently after Schumer insisted on records and Coburn opposed them. Coburn said then that records would be a step toward a federal file on gun owners.
Gun Owners of America, a gun rights group, used the same criticism against Coburn’s idea Friday.
“It basically sets the stage for a universal gun registry,” said Mike Hammond, the group’s legal counsel.
Law enforcement officials say records are invaluable for tracking guns used in crimes. Currently, gun dealers keep sales records for 20 years. The government is forbidden from doing so.
Senate debate begins Tuesday on a background check compromise between Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa. It would extend background checks to gun shows and online sales but require that records be retained.
The Senate is also expected to consider — and reject — Democratic amendments to ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines carrying more than 10 rounds.