So-Called “Universal Background Check” Bill Threatens To Criminalize SCI Convention

IMG_4131The U.S. Senate is debating a variety of sweeping new restrictions on our Second Amendment rights.  Lawmakers have now returned from their Easter recess, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has made it clear that he wants to get this over with already.

Just before the recess, the big news was that Senator Dianne Feinstein’s signature ban on semi-automatic guns and standard, factory magazines was being pulled from the “base bill” that Senator Reid will bring to the floor.  She took to the media to bemoan her plight and blame the opposition, but this doesn’t mean the battle is done.  She will still have an opportunity to try and amend her language into the bill, as opposed to defending against an amendment to take it out.

The reality is that this is simple arithmetic for Reid.  He told the media that her bill has less than 40 votes in support, and she will need either 50 or 60 votes for her language to survive the floor debate, depending on how the debate is structured.  Reid is trying to defend his class of vulnerable Democrats who are up for re-election in 2014 in conservative states, and he has no intention of forcing them to vote in support of a gun ban that in his opinion is destined to fail.

But denying Feinstein a position in the base bill also gives her room to maneuver.  She can now divide her bill into its two main components–the gun ban and the magazine ban–and offer them separately.  There is a long tradition of lawmakers voting on both sides of any debate if given the opportunity, and that would mean that vulnerable Democrats could vote against the gun ban, then vote in support of the magazine ban.  So it’s far too early to take a victory lap.  All bets are off until the precise order of debate on the Senate floor is announced, just prior to the beginning of the debate.

There is another big unknown regarding so-called “universal background checks.”  It’s a soothing phrase that initially seemed like it would offer safe harbor to wavering pols, but then came the hard work of deciding what it would mean and how it would work.  In a prototypical case of unlikely bedfellows, conservative Democratic Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) teamed up with Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) in a protracted negotiation session that sputtered on for weeks.  The talks broke down when they came up against the intractable reality that an enforceable scheme for UBCs would by necessity require the registration of gun buyers.

IMG_4135This is not news to SCI Members, because the same conclusion was reached in the Department of Justice memo discussed in the March Safari Times newspaper.  So when the deadline came for running some form of background check bill through committee to prepare for floor debate, Schumer reached into his back pocket for S. 374, a long-standing bill of his own design to mandate checks for all private transfers of firearms.  He offered a handful of changes to tweak the bill, and it was passed by the committee.  Now it’s in the hopper for possible inclusion in Senate debate, particularly if the ongoing bipartisan negotiations over a less onerous approach fail to reach a consensus.

As a result, S. 374 is a relative newcomer to this debate, and it hasn’t gotten much scrutiny.  But now, the details are coming forward, and they pose a substantial threat to many activities that SCI members enjoy, not the least of which is our annual convention.

The bill bans the “transfer” of a firearm between unlicensed persons, and a “transfer” is not limited to a sale, trade or other change in ownership.  Prohibited transfers would include:

  • Lending a friend your gun while the two of you go target shooting on a farm, on public land or in any other informal setting.
  • The temporary possession of a firearm by a student taking a hunter safety class in a classroom. The bill has no exception for training classes that don’t occur on a range.
  • Lending a firearm to a friend for hunting in any location where hunting is not permitted. A person living in a suburban or urban area where no hunting is allowed would break the law if he lent a gun to a friend who was going to use it for hunting in a permissible area in the countryside.
  • Last but certainly not least, the bill could be read to prohibit even proffering a gun for inspection at an event like our convention.  “Look but don’t touch” is a rule that most of us left behind as children, and our exhibitors will be hard pressed to sell guns at convention if the buyers can’t actually touch them to test for fit and comfort.

IMG_4324The details of the Schumer bill illustrate yet again that anyone who believes they have nothing to lose in this debate needs to think again.  If the Senate is still debating these bills by the time you read this, weigh-in with your two Senators to let them know your opinion.  The contact info is just a click away at www.senate.gov, under the “Senators” tab. — Patrick O’Malley

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