Should Congress Support Universal Background Checks for Gun Purchases?
President Obama this week attempted to revitalize momentum for a gun control package that seems to have sputtered on Capitol Hill. The president delivered a speech in Connecticut – which just enacted its own set of new gun control measures – and then flew to Washington D.C. with family members of the victims of the Newtown massacre, who are set to lobby Congress directly.
One of the top-line items in the president's proposal is the adoption of a universal background check. "We have to tell Congress it's time to require a background check for anyone who wants to buy a gun so people who are dangerous to themselves and others cannot get their hands on a gun," Obama said. A bipartisan pair of senators – Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey, a Republican, and West Virginia's Joe Manchin, a Democrat – has been working to fashion an accord that would reportedly expand background checks to currently exempt transactions, such as online sales or sales at gun shows.
Several recent polls have shown overwhelming support for universal background checks, with approval reaching 90 percent in some cases. "I think people are going to remember that, assuming nothing happens here, that in 2014 they will remember that Congress failed to support something that nearly 100 percent of Americans wanted to happen," said Mark Kelly, husband of former congresswoman and gun violence victim Gabby Giffords.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said that he will join a filibuster of any gun control measure. And pro-gun-rights organizations remain staunchly opposed to universal background checks. They argue that such checks could lead to a de facto national gun registry and that criminals don't purchase guns through normal channels anyway, rendering the checks moot. "I don't know whether [a universal background check] is going to pass or not, but it's not going to address the problem of safety in schools," said Former Republican congressman Asa Hutchinson.
So should Congress support universal background checks? Here is the Debate Club's take: