Va. congressman heads forum on gun show loophole
Videos of undercover gun buys, prepared statements from law enforcement officers, and wrenching testimony from victims of 1999 Columbine shootings and the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre played out at a Capitol Hill forum Wednesday on the closing the so-called gun show loophole.
It was standing room only in the Rayburn building for the meeting on the "Closing the Gun Show Loophole Act of 2009." But it was also as much about symbolism as lawmaking, because the gathering was a forum, and not a full-blown hearing.
Gun-rights groups, such as the NRA, did not bother to show up. Even backers conceded that the Democratic leadership's decision not to hold a hearing on the bill was a sign of the unlikelihood of the bill's passage in an election year.
Still, Paul Helmke, president and chief executive of the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, said he welcomed it.
"We're just happy to have this," Helmke said during a break. "The fact that they're giving it this much attention is a positive step."
The proposed law, H.R.2324, would require all buyers to undergo a criminal background check before buying a firearm at a gun show. Federal law already requires all federally licensed firearms dealers to conduct a computerized background check on prospective buyers before selling a gun. Under existing federal law, and in many states, however, private sales between non-dealers do not require background checks, including transactions at gun shows. (State and federal laws only prohibit selling to known felons.)
Gun-rights advocates who oppose requiring background checks at gun shows have argued that the checks are not necessary because only a tiny fraction of guns have been traced from crimes to private sales at gun shows. They also argue that there is no such loophole because non-dealers can still sell or transfer a firearm without conducting a background check on a stranger they met through a want ad or in some other way.
Above all, they fear that requiring such checks at gun shows would clear the way to requiring universal background checks for every firearms transfer, whether between friends or family -- and ultimately, to de facto registration.
Virginia, whose General Assembly has fought over the gun show proposal for years, played a prominent role in Wednesday's hearing.
Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-Va.) chaired the forum, and panelists included Gerald Massengill, former superintendent of the Virginia State Police, and Colin Goddard, a former Virginia Tech student who told of surviving four gunshots during the April 2007 mass shooting. Lori Haas, whose daughter also survived the Virginia Tech shooting, also attended.
Goddard told the panel his day started like an ordinary day for a college undergraduate until a gunman started shooting up a French class.
"The next 10 minutes of my life were the longest 10 minutes I ever experienced," Goddard said. He also talked about his work with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun
Violence in documenting the ease with which he could buy arms at gun shows.
In an undercover video taken at several gun shows, Goddard often warned the private buyers that he could not pass a background check, but the sellers sold him weapons anyway. Some just laughed.
One panel member, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), whose husband was killed in the Long Island Railroad shooting, acknowledged in an interview that the push for gun control has become more difficult since the Supreme Court's rulings effectively striking down gun bans in the District of Columbia and Chicago and recognizing a private right to own guns. But she said she would not relent, and on Wednesday filed a new gun control bill that would require gun owners to report lost or stolen guns to law enforcement.
"Some people will say, 'You're swimming upstream.' You know what? So I'm swimming upstream,'' McCarthy said. "But I can't let the NRA step all over this Congress."
-- Fredrick Kunkle
July 15, 2010; 9:19 AM ET
Categories: Fredrick Kunkle , Virginia Tech massacre
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