Vice-President Joe Biden's first detailed remarks about the package
of gun control reforms he intends to present next Tuesday to President
Obama are solid first steps.
Speaking Thursday in Washington in between meetings with various gun
control constituencies -- from pro-control victims groups and public
health physicians on one side to the NRA on the other side -- Biden laid
out seven proposals that would more or less reset the federal clock on
gun control laws to where it was in 1985, a year before Congress started
loosening decades of laws under the Reagan administration and NRA
lobbying. Biden repeatedly earned an F rating from the NRA during his tenure in the Senate.
Here are the seven agenda items, which Biden said had near-unanimous support from gun control groups.
1) Close the so-called gun show loophole. In 1986,
Congress passed a law allowing people to buy a firearm at one of the
thousands of gun shows held each year across the country. These sales
require no licensing of the gun buyer, no background checks, no waiting
periods before getting the gun, no reporting sales to local or federal
authorities. Today, 40 percent of gun sales annually across the county
occur at gun shows, and by some estimates 80 percent of weapons used in
crimes are bought at gun shows.
“There is a surprising—so far—a surprising recurrence of suggestions
that we have universal background checks, not just close the gun show
loophole but totally universal background checks including private
sales,” Biden said.
2) Universal background checks for gun buyers; and 3) improve background check database.
These two proposals are connected and face significant political,
technical and legal hurdles. Congress has barred certain groups of
people from owning guns for decades, starting with felons in 1934. In
1968, Congress expanded that list to include the mentally ill and drug
addicts. In 1993, Congress passed the Brady Bill—named after Ronald
Reagan’s press secretary who was shot—which instituted a federal system
of background checks for gun buyers, and extended the waiting period to
five days before buyers could get their guns.
The background check system has been in shambles for years, as AlterNet has reported,
with three-quarters of the states choosing not to share court
information about felons and the mentally ill with federal authorities,
and the Supreme Court ruling in 1997 that states didn’t have to comply
with the reporting requirement.
Even though Congress passed a 2007 law creating federally
administered grants to states to overcome technical hurdles with sending
information to the Justice Department (some states submit information
electronically; others infrequently mail a CD) only a dozen states
account for most of the data six years after that became law. Biden
complained about this non-compliance Thursday. However, the solution
doesn’t appear to be a quick fix if past is precedent.
“It doesn’t do a lot of good when in some states they have a backlog
of 40, 50, 60,000 felons that they never registered here,” Biden said.
“So we have got to talk about, there is a lot of talk about how we
entice, or what is the impediment keeping states from relaying this