The deal senators have struck to expand firearm background checks to all Internet and gun show sales will drive up prices for consumers, weapons retailers say.
Manufacturers say the deal, which is the crux of the gun bill that senators will begin debating this week, also includes language that gives background checks for sales at gun shows priority over in-store purchases — something their top trade group says is unfair.
Under current law, background checks are required for sales only by licensed retailers. The director of the top trade group for gun retailers said expanding checks to include Internet and gun show purchases will drive up prices and push business to federally licensed firearms retailers, who in many cases will perform the checks for private sellers.
“You’re going to have a lot more people paying a lot more money,” said Andrew Molchan, director of the Florida-based Professional Gun Retailers Association Inc.
If background checks are required for all sales, he said, federal licensees could effectively corner the market, set their own transaction fees and pass the costs on to consumers.
“If they have to do [the background checks], that means they have to pay,” he said. “In the real world, a lot of people are going to raise their prices.”
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As the Senate begins its debate, gun control advocates’ hopes for a broader ban on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines have faded. That has left background checks as the centerpiece of the fight.
Proponents argue that tightening the system to include more transactions can help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, but opponents say the paperwork requirements could lead to a national gun registry.
Sens. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, and Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, tried to combat those fears in their background-check proposal by specifically outlawing federal attempts to keep a registry and including stiff prison sentences for violators.
But Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who was part of the negotiations with Mr. Toomey before dropping out of the talks, said the record-keeping provisions in the deal are too onerous and amount to a “new tax on guns.”
“Instead of rerouting all commerce through federally designated persons that will charge a $30 to $50 and up to a $125 fee, creating a new de facto tax on guns, my plan would allow a consumer-friendly website or concealed carry permits to be used for verification, allowing law abiding gun owners the freedom to easily and safely transfer firearms,” he said in a letter to Senate colleagues.
Under the Toomey-Manchin amendment, concealed-carry permit holders are allowed to forgo background checks, according to Mr. Toomey’s office, which began an email blitz Friday touting reasons why the amendment “is good for gun owners.”
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The Toomey-Manchin amendment also calls for up to 15 years in prison for any government official who tries to use the background checks to create a gun registry.
“Here’s the current law. Current law says if you go to a gun store, you have to have a background check,” Mr. Manchin said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And the gun store keeps it. If you go to a gun show today and you’re a licensed dealer, you still do the same thing. We’re treating everybody the same.”
One complication is that the Toomey-Manchin deal specifically directs the FBI to complete an instant background check request from a gun show before finishing any pending check elsewhere.
“Why is the Second Amendment right of a buyer at a gun show superior to that of a paying customer of a gun shop?” said Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade group for gun and ammunition manufacturers. “Prioritizing gun show checks would delay checks for gun shop owners all across America on the busiest sales days of the week.”
The effects of the proposal are not clear. Since the Newtown, Conn., school shooting rampage in December, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System had eight of its 10 busiest days through March 31, and all of the top 10 weeks for background checks have occurred since December.