Monday, April 15, 2013

Background Checks for Guns

The U.S. Senate will begin debating gun control legislation this week.  But, sadly, the likelihood that any measure will pass Congress remains a long shot.   

Last Thursday sixty-eight Senators voted to allow debate to begin on the legislation, heading off threats of a filibuster.   They had responded to increased pressure from families of victims and strong public support, according to polls.  But a vote to allow debate is not a vote for gun control.  And many Republicans, and some Democrats, remain opposed to any such legislation, including background checks.

Senators Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, and Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, have lobbied their colleagues to support their bipartisan bill that would expand background checks to gun purchases online and at gun shows.  Appearing on CNN Sunday, Senator Manchin said, "Law-abiding gun owners will like this bill."  Even though they have picked up some support, they still face an uphill battle.

Opposition to extending background checks, which are currently only required on purchases from licensed gun dealers, is driven by several key issues.   Opponents say that not enough is being done to enforce the gun control measures that are already in place.  They also say that criminals will be able to obtain guns illegally regardless of any background checks.  And they are spreading fear among gun owners that background checks will make it easier for the government to take guns away from "law-abiding" citizens.     

While background checks are supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans, those who oppose them are passionate and are likely to turn out on Election Day.  And organizations opposed to gun control, like the NRA, are likely to support candidates in primaries to run against incumbents seeking reelection who support the measure.  Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, is already fighting a defensive battle in her reelection bid because she has said she will vote for background checks.  

Each year there are about 30,000 deaths by guns in America, and more than 11,000 are homicides.  Since the tragic mass murder last December in Newtown, Connecticut, more than 3,000 gun related homicides have occurred.  Many of the victims are young.  It is estimated that there are 310 million guns in America, not counting the military.  That is one gun for every American.  

Forty per cent of the guns sold in this country each year are not subject to background checks.  This nation's city streets are awash in illegal guns.  Gun violence is this nation's greatest plague, just ask the citizens of Aurora, Tucson, Blacksburg and Newton.  Congress must have the courage to pass the Toomey/Manchin measure on background checks.  To defeat the bill would be to ignore the wishes of the overwhelming majority of American people.   

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