While lawmakers in Olympia wrestle with a state universal background check measure, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee today adopted on a 10-8 party line vote a similar measure that faces an uncertain future before the entire Senate.
But Sen. Charles Grassley (R- Iowa) warned that this measure could ultimately lead to registration and even confiscation when anti-gunners realize background checks do not prevent violent crimes. In California, guns are already being confiscated from people who may live with someone who has been disqualified under a state law, according to a published report.
His warning fell on the deaf ears of committee Democrats, who decided to take up Sen. Dianne Feinstein's bill to ban so-called "assault weapons" on Thursday. That measure may not fare so well before the committee.
Senate Republicans are wary of the federal background check legislation, and Sen. Grassley reminded the committee during Tuesday’s debate that “Criminals do not comply with existing background check laws. Why would anyone think criminals will comply (with) broader background check requirements?”
The bill, sponsored by anti-gun U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, is described as a “place holder” by Politico.com, and requires background checks on all firearms transactions, whether at retail or between private parties. Schumer reportedly plans on offering a substitute measure that Republicans can agree to sometime over the next couple of weeks.
It is a dilemma now facing lawmakers in Olympia, where pressure is building to pass House Bill 1588 in the House. Proposed amendments were due this morning at 11:30 and there will be debate this afternoon. One source tipped this column that the House might pass the buck to voters by making HB 1588 a referendum to the public this fall. Sources say they have the votes to do that.
The federal measure is running into the same kind of opposition as the state-level bill. Opponents are concerned about record-keeping and possible privacy issues, along with the potential for abuse of the background check system to build a de facto registry. Sen. Schumer argued that the notion “demeans the argument” and he insisted that the bill prohibits registration and confiscation.
As this column noted earlier, there is also fury within the firearms community over accommodations made to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to exempt law enforcement from the background check. Also, WASPC lobbied to have a key tenet of HB 1588 removed because it would have eliminated the state pistol registry.
Back in “the other Washington,” Schumer’s background check measure may be a double-edged sword because its passage Tuesday morning may convince lawmakers in Olympia that they do not need to “reinvent the wheel” by passing a state statute that would be superseded by a federal law.
Schumer’s bill, like HB 1588, includes an exemption for immediate family members.
Another tenet of the federal measure is to prod states to provide more information on mental health records to the National Instant Check System. This could raise concerns because of what is currently happening in California. There, according to Bloomberg News, armed teams of lawmen have been moving in to various residences, confiscating guns from people who have legally-registered them under state statute, if they have lost their gun rights.
The story reports one seizure operation that happened because a gun owner spent a couple of days in a mental facility. According to the story, the guns were seized because the wife of the gun owner had a mental illness problem, but she told the newspaper that the situation had been "exaggerated" by an admitting nurse. Police took three guns, one registered to her, and two registered to her husband, who apparently had done nothing wrong, and there were no arrests.
Schumer, according to the Los Angeles Times, said during debate about his proposal Tuesday that “I would hope and pray we would debate the rational parts of this bill and not say this bill will lead to confiscation or registration. Nothing in this bill or nothing in history since the Brady Law was passed that indicates a scintilla of truth to that argument.”
But with the California report, Grassley’s objection – quoted by the Times – might hit a nerve. He told the committee that “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,” Grassley said, “we will be back here debating whether gun registration is needed. And when registration fails, then the next step is gun confiscation.”
Opponents of the bill in Olympia need only look south to the Golden State to ramp up concerns that Grassley’s observations could be prescient.