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For Immediate Release
March 12, 2013

Grassley Executive Committee Statement on the Background Checks Bill

Prepared Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee
Protecting Responsible Gun Sellers Act of 2013, S.374
Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mr. Chairman, I oppose this bill.

The first point I want to make goes to process.  When this bill was first listed on the Committee agenda to be marked up, it was just a list of findings.  It was not ready to be marked up.

The language has changed.  It is still not ready to be marked up.  But we are marking it up anyway.

We were told there was such widespread support for universal background checks that a bipartisan bill would be on its inevitable way to passage.  Instead, three of the four senators involved in those discussions do not endorse this bill. 

The bill is somewhat similar to a bill Senator Schumer introduced in the previous Congress.  So let’s start with the big picture problems.

First, there is no way to enforce a requirement of universal background checks without implementing gun registration.  I know Senator Schumer says that federal law prevents such a registry.  But federal law can be changed by federal law.  And this would-be federal law requires the federal licensed dealer to keep a registration record of the transfer. 

Mass shootings would continue to occur despite universal background checks.  Criminals will continue to steal guns and buy them illegally to circumvent the requirements.  When that happens, we will be back here debating whether gun registration is needed.  And when registration fails, then the next step is gun confiscation.

The Deputy Director of the National Institute of Justice concluded earlier this year with respect to universal background checks that “[e]ffectiveness depends on … requiring gun registration…” 

He noted that the largest sources of how criminals obtain guns are through straw purchases and theft.  He wrote that straw purchases and theft “would likely become larger if background checks at gun shows and private sellers were addressed.” 

And this bill would eliminate private sales.  Talk about unintended consequences. 

The law now requires background checks for sales by licensed dealers.  We are told that criminals don’t get guns because of current background checks.  We are told that when they seek to purchase guns, background checks prevent them.

But that is not so.  Obviously, criminals do get guns.  They obtain them because they do not comply with background checks.  Supporters of this bill contend that if we only make background checks universal, criminals will not get guns.  But criminals do not comply with existing background check laws.

Why would anyone think a criminal would comply with broader background check requirements?  They will be driven even more to straw purchases and theft. Just as the National Institute of Justice official said.

The effectiveness of this bill is therefore highly questionable. 

My next point goes to the details of the bill. 

The mental health provisions from last Congress have been eliminated.  That is a positive. Professor David Kopel pointed out those flaws during the last Congress.  But many others remain.

The bill greatly restricts the rights of law abiding citizens.  The bill’s family exception applies to gifts only.  It does not permit lending a gun to a family member.  The bill does not permit a temporary transfer in the home. 

 So a gun owner cannot bring a new gun to a friend’s house and let him handle it briefly. 

If a gun owner and a friend return from the shooting range, then stop at the friend’s house, the friend can’t handle the owner’s gun to show him how better to clean it. 

An owner can transfer his gun to a friend at a licensed shooting range or while hunting.  But if they go target shooting in a National Forest or on the friend’s farm, the owner can’t let the friend use his gun.

On top of that, gun safety instruction will be rendered impossible in many situations by the bill.  This training could occur at a target range.  But many of these classes take place at schools, office buildings, sporting goods stores and other locations.  Only at the end does the class go to a shooting range for live fire instruction.  So gun safety instructors could not offer the classroom component of the course anywhere except a shooting range or at the instructor’s home.

The most troublesome individual provision of the bill is its requirement that a person whose gun is lost or stolen has to report it within 24 hours to local police and the U.S. Attorney General.  The problems with this go way beyond the short period of time allowed to report. 

For one thing, it would be a burden that applies only to lawful gun owners and not to criminals.  The bill provides, “It shall be unlawful for any person who lawfully possesses or owns a firearm…” to fail to report the theft or loss. 

It is a felony if a lawful gun owner fails to do so.  But there is no requirement that a person who unlawfully owns a gun report its theft or loss.  A felon who fails to report commits no crime.  A law abiding citizen who forgets commits a felony.  This provision poses a major threat to freedom.  Because, in America we prohibit criminal actions. 

Although that limits freedom, it does so much less than a law that criminalizes non-action.  In America, it is very rare to criminalize inaction.  Only a few classes of people have an obligation to act, police officers and doctors.  But ordinary citizens don’t.  One very limited exception is filing a tax return.  And it took a constitutional amendment to give the government the power to mandate that. 

Requiring people to report lost or stolen guns is a good idea.  Many if not most gun owners do so.  But making it a federal offense not to take affirmative action is a legitimate question.  I wonder what constitutional authority the Congress has to make people take an action such as this or face criminal penalties.  Maybe some of my colleagues would want to engage Senator Schumer on that point.

Finally, I note the views of Mr. Mark Mattioli, the father of a young son, James, who was murdered in Newtown. 

He states that he is “not willing to entertain this conversation until [Congress] implement[s] solutions to improve the NICS database…. Until you fix the database, and what feeds it, you will not solve anything.”
He says that “[t]hese checks are not universal, and never will be.  That word is intended to give people a sense that they have solved the entire problem.” 

I agree. 

We heard testimony that hundreds of thousands of mental health records of prohibited persons in a single state have not been provided to NICS.  We should make sure existing laws are effective and enforced before we start enacting new ones.

For these reasons, I will oppose this bill.