Last month, the Senate came together in a spirit of bipartisanship and passed serious gun legislation that will help keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of fugitives, felons and our children. At that time, I expressed my hope that the House would follow suit.
The House now has an opportunity to do just that. Will it join the Senate in passing sensible measures that require background checks for all gun sales at gun shows? Or will it pass a bill that not only leaves a loophole for gun shows but weakens one of the most effective and important gun control measures ever passed -- the Brady law?
Both the Hyde-McCollum bill and Rep. John D. Dingell's alternative proposal have big problems. While both measure supposedly provide for background checks at gun shows, they create new loopholes and weaken current protections.
Under the Hyde-McCollum bill, the definition of gun show is narrowed to exclude many events where large numbers of guns are sold, such as flea markets. Sellers at these events won't be required to perform background checks, leaving a gaping hole in the law.
And even for the events that it does cover, the Hyde-McCollum bill weakens the Brady law by cutting down the amount of time law enforcement has to complete pre-sale background checks, thus making it easier for criminals to buy guns. But changing this law won't benefit law-abiding buyers. Under the FBI's instant check system, 73 percent of all buyers are allowed to buy within minutes, and 95 percent of all buyers have their check completed within two hours. Meanwhile, more than 400,000 people who should not have gotten guns have been stopped from buying them since the law took effect five years ago.
The Hyde-McCollum bill cuts down the time available to law enforcement to complete the background checks from three business days to 72 hours, even though the court records that are sometimes needed to finish the check can take days to access. If this had been the rule for Brady background checks in the past six months, the FBI estimates that more than 9,000 felons and other prohibited purchasers would have gotten guns.
The alternative proposal offered by Rep. Dingell goes even further. It cuts the time to 24 hours, which translates to 17,000 prohibited purchasers who would not have been stopped from buying deadly weapons in the past six months.
These aren't just statistics. We know that among those stopped were a convicted murderer, a convicted child molester and a person under indictment for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Each of these individuals tried to buy a gun on a weekend and, had a 24-hour limit been in place, each would have slipped through the system and would have been sold a gun.
The Hyde-McCollum bill presents other difficulties for law enforcement. It allows amateurs to access the instant check system; jeopardizes our ability to audit the system by requiring the immediate destruction of records; frustrates our ability to trace guns that are used in crimes; and reverses 30 years of federal law by allowing federal gun dealers to ship guns directly to unlicensed buyers across state lines.
Most Americans -- including many members of the House -- support the common-sense measures passed by the Senate. Others support the Senate's goal but express reservations about certain details of that bill. An amendment offered by Reps. Carolyn McCarthy, Marge Roukema and Rod Blagojevich should help them out. Their proposal closes the gun show loophole and makes some useful clarifications to the Senate bill.
Last month the American people spoke and the Senate listened. I am hopeful that the House also will listen to the people of this country and pass a bill that closes the gun show loophole -- no ifs, ands or buts -- while protecting the interests of legitimate sellers and purchasers. Together we can make all Americans safer.
The writer is attorney general of the United States.