Background checks for gun sales checked out in Congress

Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (L) delivers her opening remarks while seated next to her...

Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (L) delivers her opening remarks while seated next to her husband, former U.S. Navy Captain Mark Kelly, during a hearing held by the Senate Judiciary committee about guns and violence on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 30, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Bryn Weese, Senior Washington Correspondent

, Last Updated: 5:43 PM ET

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Universal background checks for all gun sales seems the most likely -- maybe the only -- gun control measure that could ever become law.

It certainly received the most attention Wednesday during the first Congressional hearing on gun control following the Sandy Hook massacre.

Currently, criminal background checks are only required when buying a gun from a licensed dealer, which means private sellers -- even at gun shows -- can sell firearms without having to check the eligibility of the buyer.

The fact that these loopholes exist, "makes a mockery of our background check system," according to Mark Kelly, whose wife, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, was shot in the head in a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Aziz. Giffords also appeared at Wednesday's hearing.

"If we close the gun show loophole, if we require private sellers to complete a background check ... we will prevent gun crime," Kelly told lawmakers.

But the National Rifle Association's (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre argued against mandatory background checks, saying it would only apply to law-abiding gun owners who follow the rules.

"When it comes to background checks, let's be honest. Background checks will never be universal because criminals will never submit to them," LaPierre said.

Instead, the NRA is calling on the government to enforce the laws already on the books, and strengthen regulations surrounding mental illness to keep violent people off the streets.

But LaPierre himself supported the idea of universal background checks in 1999, reportedly saying at the time it was "reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone."

There is strong opposition in Congress, even from some Democrats, to ban so-called assault weapons and limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds or less, as U.S. President Barack Obama and others have called for.

The proposed changes to the background check system include not only requiring them for all gun sales, but also including mental health records in the database so people being treated for mental illness would be flagged in the system.

bryn.weese@sunmedia.ca


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