- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 8, 2002

Sens. John McCain and Joseph I. Lieberman hope to force Congress into an election-year gun debate over their measure to require background checks on all firearms sold at gun shows, arguing that it would help improve domestic security.
Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, and Mr. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, introduced their bill a year ago but have recently begun to search for a suitable bill scheduled for action within the next month to which they can add an amendment with their gun-show provisions.
"We've got to find a vehicle," Mr. McCain said, adding that this year is ripe for the issue. "We're in an election season."
The public relations side of the campaign hits full gear today when Americans for Gun Safety (AGS), one of the groups backing the bill, begins running radio advertisements here in Washington in support of the provisions. The ads feature Mr. McCain and Mr. Lieberman talking about terrorists who obtained firearms at gun shows.
"It just makes no sense to allow criminals and terrorists to evade background checks at a time when we are tightening homeland security," Mr. McCain says in the ad.
In the past month, the organization has run radio ads in the home states of Sens. Wayne Allard of Colorado and Gordon H. Smith of Oregon criticizing the two men for not taking a public position on the bill. Both Republicans are up for re-election this year.
But even if the measure makes it out of the Senate, House leaders said its prospects are dim.
"I don't think anybody in the House is looking for an opportunity to fight about guns," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican. "Were it at all possible to ignore it, we will. Otherwise we'll just have to fight it out in conference."
Backers tout the McCain-Lieberman bill as a middle-ground measure that splits the difference between gun-control opponents and proponents.
Existing law requires federally licensed gun dealers to put gun purchasers through background checks in a federal database whether the sale is at the dealer's store or one of about 4,500 gun shows held every year.
But unlicensed individuals, usually selling or trading from their personal collections, can sell a weapon at a show without requiring a background check of the buyer.
The McCain-Lieberman bill would require those unlicensed individuals to obtain secondary vendor's licenses. It also would create a federal "special firearms event operators" license for show promoters, who would then have access to the background-check system and could run buyers' names through the system for secondary vendors.
But Matt Bennett, a spokesman for AGS, said 18 states already regulate private sales at gun shows, and they have figured out systems that work for promoters and sellers.
The bill has fierce critics on either side.
Those who favor strict gun-control measures say the bill still has too many loopholes they oppose the dual-licensing system for private collectors and the shortened time requirement for a computer background check to go through. They favor a more restrictive bill sponsored by Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat.
On the other side of the issue are gun-show promoters, who say they will be driven out of business by the burdens that McCain-Lieberman puts on show promoters and the authority it grants to the Treasury secretary to regulate promoters.
Mr. Bennett said backers feel good about their chances if Mr. McCain and Mr. Lieberman find a suitable bill to attach their provisions to.


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