A one-page document circulating among Republican members of Congress details what steps Attorney General William Barr’s Department of Justice is prepping for the White House on background checks — and for Second Amendment supporters, the results are a mixed bag.
The document was obtained by The Daily Caller, which reported that it’s been shopped among GOP congressmen in both houses to try to drum up support.
The move falls short of what most Democrats have been calling for, but didn’t induce unalloyed joy in Republicans, either.
According to The Daily Caller, the pitch was made by Attorney General Bill Barr and White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland.
Among the Republicans pitched to during a Tuesday meeting on Capitol Hill were North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri.
— Mike DeBonis (@mikedebonis) September 17, 2019
First, the basics: “Consistent with the Manchin-Toomey draft legislation, a background-check requirement would be extended to all advertised commercial sales, including sales at gun shows,” the one-sheet document reads.
“Background checks would be conducted either through a [Federal Firearm Licensee] or through a newly-created class of licensed transfer agents.”
While federally licensed dealers must conduct background checks before a gun sale, private sellers don’t have to. This would change to some extent through Barr’s proposal, although the specifics are vague.
From what we know, however, we can infer two things. Private transfers: safe. New level of bureaucracy: ugh.
If the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is so utterly desperate for new hires that it cannot perform the jobs adumbrated here, the White House can almost certainly get the money for them.
Trust me, when it comes to keeping people who shouldn’t be buying guns from buying guns, Democrats and (enough) Republicans will get on board.
The “newly-created class of licensed transfer agents,” however, should set off alarm bells in your head. We have the current infrastructure for background checks in place.
There’s not a whole lot of information here about the new class of licensed transfer agents, this being a one-page document and all, but that should be worrisome. Based on the information provided, the new class of agents would be for private sales.
“Licensed transfer agents would not carry firearm inventory but would be authorized by the ATF to initiate background checks for private sales through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) — including both (a) verifying the buyer’s identity and (b) communicating with NICS,” the sheet reads.
“A commercial seller, who is not a licensed dealer and does not want an FFL or transfer agent to retain a Form 4473 (identifying the buyer) could go to an FFL or transfer agent to conduct a background check before completing transfer and generate” the requisite forms, the sheet says.
Again, these are early days, but “promising” wouldn’t be the adjective I would use.
A lot of this, too, is definitional. What are “all advertised commercial sales?” If this is a personal transfer that’s being advertised in a local newspaper or on a bulletin board, we’re signing this newly deputized class of agents on for a lot more than they can potentially handle.
If this is regulating those sorts of advertisements, that’s even worse — and you can imagine the court challenge that would follow the legislation with all due rapidity.
Another glaring omission that was pointed out: Straw purchases, the major source of illegally trafficked guns, isn’t addressed at all in the one-sheet memo.
A source told The Daily Caller that the plan was pitched by Barr and Ueland as an election year necessity; without any gun control legislation to name, they said, the issue could become a rallying cry for Democrats in 2020.
“This missive is a non-starter with the NRA and our 5 million members because it burdens law-abiding gun owners while ignoring what actually matters: fixing the broken mental health system and the prosecution of violent criminals,” NRA Institute for Legislative Action Executive Director Jason Ouimet said.
Republican lawmakers also noted the similarity to the Manchin-Toomey gun control bill, another non-starter in Congress.
“It was a great family discussion,” GOP Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said with a laugh after the meeting. He added that the proposal was “the furthest out from Republican dogma.”
“Expanding background checks has always been viewed by a lot of our constituents — by my constituents — as a slippery slope and probably something that is not all that helpful.”
“The idea of a registry really bothers me,” GOP Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, who signaled he was open to expanded background checks, said.
“We do have to keep the guns out of the hands of people should not have them, like felons,” he said. “The question I have, though, is what happens if another administration comes in and we want to make sure there are safeguards against that, because there’s only one step between a registry and confiscation.”
Perhaps most importantly, President Donald Trump doesn’t particularly seem to be behind it, either.
When asked about the brief proposal and whether the president had signed off on it, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said: “Not even close.”
An update from the White House: Hogan Gidley tells me that just because WH legislative director Eric Ueland is among those pushing this on the Hill, it does NOT mean Trump himself has signed off on it. “Not even close.” https://t.co/BF7cGDdzqA
— Elaina Plott (@elainaplott) September 18, 2019
“The president has not signed off on anything yet but has been clear he wants meaningful solutions that actually protect the American people and could potentially prevent these tragedies from ever happening again,” Gidley said, according to Politico. “That is not a White House document, and any suggestion to the contrary is completely false.”
Some Republican votes in the Senate seemed to hinge on whether or not Trump is on board with the basic principles laid out in the document — a huge stumbling block for Barr, since Gidley’s statement didn’t exactly exude support.
Take Indiana GOP Sen. Todd Young: “Once the president [endorses it], I’ll look forward to reviewing it,” he told Politico.
“You don’t need to worry about what’s floating around,” Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said. “We aren’t going to do anything that the president isn’t going to sign anyway.”
By Wednesday, Barr seemed to be backing away from the specifics of the plan, saying that he was not sharing “any list of proposals with the senators” and that “there are a number of different proposals that are being considered.”
“I’m up here just kicking around some ideas, getting perspectives so I can be in a better position to advise the president,” Barr said. “But the president has made no decision yet on these issues.”
Unfortunately for Barr, it rather sounds like he has. There are good things and bad things in this brief paper, things that need to be taken out, issues that need to be clarified and other sources of gun violence that need to be addressed.
Whatever the case, this is something conservatives need to watch hawkishly.
Passing gun control legislation to neuter an issue for the Democrats in 2020 will be counterproductive in multifarious ways. It’ll alienate the base, it won’t stop gun violence and it’ll be almost impossible to repeal without blowback from the media.
Doing something just to do something should never be encouraged, even if Barr and Co. think they’re playing 4D chess with the Democrats.
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