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Senate becomes ground zero in costly gun debate — with both sides predicting victory

- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 24, 2013

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn predict the Senate will pass a measure to strengthen background checks on gun sales, but National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre warned Sunday that Mr. Bloomberg cannot "buy America" on the issue.

Three months after the shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school shocked the country, the Senate is poised to debate a gun package that includes several measures, the most contentious requiring near-universal background checks on all gun sales.

"I am cautiously optimistic," Mr. Bloomberg said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I think when you have an issue where 90 percent of the public, 80 percent of NRA members even, say that they think we should have reasonable checks before people are allowed to buy guns — they all support the Second Amendment, as do I. But there are an awful lot of people that this is one of the great issues of our time. We have to stop the carnage."

Mr. Bloomberg's gun control advocacy group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, announced over the weekend that it's launching a $12 million, 13-state advertising campaign targeting senators of both parties on gun legislation. The first two ads, debuting over the weekend, deal with background checks.

Mr. LaPierre said later on the program, though, that Mr. Bloomberg's money won't persuade the country.

"He's going to find out this is a country of the people, by the people and for the people, and he can't spend enough of his $27 billion to try to impose his will on the American public," Mr. LaPierre said. "They don't want him in their restaurants, they don't want them in their homes, they don't want him telling what food to eat, they sure don't want him telling what self-defense firearms to own, and he can't buy America."

Mr. LaPierre reiterated his refrain of the past three months that the notion of "universal background checks' is a misnomer because criminals will never submit to them and the FBI's national instant check system is deeply flawed.

"The mental health records are not in the system and they don't prosecute any of the criminals they catch," he said. "It's a speed bump for the law-abiding. It slows down the law-abiding and does nothing to anybody else."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said last week that a ban on so-called assault weapons and high-capacity magazines will not be included in the gun legislation package Democrats will bring to the floor after Congress' two-week break.

While he has assured senators the opportunity to add the measures as amendments, the move makes it significantly harder for either to pass. That leaves strengthened background checks as arguably the most ambitious single measure gun control advocates can realistically hope will clear the full chamber.

Mr. Coburn said "some type" of enhanced background checks will pass the Senate.

"I think we can get there — my hope is we can get there," the Oklahoma Republican said, adding that he doesn't think the measure Mr. Reid is bringing to the floor will pass.

"Not at 60 votes," he said on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" that aired Sunday. "And if it does pass the Senate, it certainly won't pass the House, and the whole idea is to get something that'll pass both houses."

Mr. Coburn was engaged in bipartisan talks on universal background checks, but negotiations stalled when he took issue with the way records would be kept on gun sales. Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he is open to introducing compromise legislation on the matter if senators can strike a deal during the Easter recess.

But Mr. Coburn said the system, as proposed, presumes a "guilty until proven innocent" approach that runs counter to American jurisprudence, pointing out the average time between a gun sale and a gun being used in a crime is 11 years.

"What we were going to do is put at risk gun owners who actually followed the law and 11 years later can't find a piece of paper that said they did it right and the presumption is, you're guilty," he said. "And the vast majority of gun owners in this country and law-abiding citizens do not want to sell a gun to somebody that shouldn't have it. And they'll follow this."

The base bill will include universal background check legislation proposed by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, which requires checks on virtually all gun transactions, with limited exemptions, such as gifts exchanged between family members.

Currently, all sales by licensed firearms dealers must go through background checks, but transactions between private individuals do not. Lawmakers are looking for a way to extend checks to almost all transactions without also creating a record-keeping system that gun-rights supporters fear could turn into a gun registry.

Mr. Coburn said he doesn't believe the federal government will confiscate peoples' guns — another fear of many gun-rights activists — but that its track record on other issues gives people justifiable pause.

"Remember, there are a lot of people in this country that — and rightly so, given the behavior of the federal government, in terms of its fiscal capability, in terms of regulatory overreach, in terms of poking its nose into every area of everybody's life, in terms of domestic drones, in terms of all this other stuff — that you've created a certain level of paranoia in this country, and some of it's justified," he said.

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