High-profile players in the gun control debate met in Washington on Wednesday to testify on the issue in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, her husband and former astronaut Mark Kelly, and National Rifle Association Vice President Wayne LaPierre were among witnesses who appeared to debate the merits of various proposed gun control measures.
One proposal, supported by Giffords, who suffered serious brain injuries in a shooting, and Kelly, would require universal background checks for gun purchases. Currently, when a buyer wants to purchase a gun from a licensed gun dealer, the purchaser is run through a federal database of criminals and the mentally ill. The data is compiled from criminal records and mental health agencies, and ensures convicted felons and anyone determined by a court to be dangerously mentally ill cannot legally buy a firearm. This process is not required for private sales and purchases made at gun shows, with 40 percent of all U.S. gun purchases being made without a check because they aren't being made from a federally licensed dealer.
Proponents of stricter gun laws say the rules must be uniform for all gun buyers, and no longer allow the "gun show loophole." Sales at gun shows are considered private transactions, so a background check is not required. Some states do have their own laws that require checks in such cases, but federal law does not mandate them.
Lawmakers seem to support steps to create a stricter background check system, with Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York saying after the hearing, "Universal background checks is a proven, effective step we can take to reduce gun violence. And I believe it has a good chance of passing."
Criminal background checks for all gun purchases were also proposed by President Barack Obama as a part of his gun control recommendations.
LaPierre rejected the idea that universal background checks would do anything to curb the violence use of guns:
Let's be honest … Background checks will never be ‘universal,' because criminals will never submit to them.
He instead proposed heavier enforcement of existing gun laws, like stricter prosecution of those who lie on background check forms. Opponents of universal background checks also say the federal database through which potential buyers would be run is incomplete—the database doesn't include the names of all those named dangerously mentally ill because many states don't report them—and therefore ineffective.
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