Okay, I’ve got some more detail for you on the status of Senate negotiations over the plan to expand the background check system.
A couple weeks ago I reported that the bipartisan group of Senators negotiating this deal — Tom Coburn, Joe Manchin, Chuck Schumer, and Mark Kirk — were 95 percent of the way there. That was reiterated in press accounts over the weekend. But then Coburn, who is central to the discussions because of his sterling “gun rights” record, went on TV and said the deal is not close — that the sticking point has to do with whether to keep records on sales.
Here’s the situation, according to sources familiar with the discussions. The sticking point right now only concerns guns sold in rural or remote areas. The Senators have agreed on a key provision: How background checks would be expanded to most private sales. The way it would work is that in most cases, if you want to sell me a gun, you and I would go to a federally licensed dealer, who would run the check for a fee and okay the sale. In that case, a record of the sale would be kept by the gun store — which is already how it works for existing background checks. Coburn, according to the sources, does not have a problem with this.
However, Coburn wants private buyers and sellers in remote areas (how this would be defined is not yet clear) to be able to remotely get federal dealers to run the background check, via an internet portal. This is the central focus of negotiations right now. In these cases, Coburn says, no record of the sale should be kept. Dems disagree, arguing that some kind of record is necessary for enforcement.
In one sense, Coburn’s position is hard to understand: Why is he okay with records being kept on in person background checks, but not remote ones? In another sense, though, his position is understandable. For him to agree to background checks on most private sales is a big concession, given his conservative gun credentials. According to the sources, he believes keeping records on internet-based background checks would create another category of record keeping, which he’s not willing to do, particularly for gun buyers in rural areas, who are likely to be more conservative.
What’s more, this sticking point is not insurmountable. After all, depending on how you define “remote area,” the concession Coburn wants (no records on those sales) might only end up impacting a small minority of sales, ones that would not be criminal in any case (since the person passed the check). If this were done, you’d still see a dramatically expanded background check system.
In another important detail, sources tell me, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is privately signaling that he’s okay with expanding the background check system and letting gun stores keep records of the sales — even on the internet based ones. That’s big, because Manchin is a red state Dem with an “A” rating from the NRA — so having him on board behind the details of the proposal are important.
Again: In no way, shape or form would this record keeping by gun stores create the “national gun registry” that certain Republicans keep insisting it would. The law explicitly forbids the creation of any such registry; not even Coburn, sources say, sees a registry as a real possibility. However, irrationality is badly coloring this debate, and it’s very far from over. Still, the remaining sticking point is not necessarily impossible to overcome. Stay tuned.