Back­ground checks can’t be used as a U.S. gun reg­istry

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - “There are al­most too many schemes to list. But Pres­i­dent Obama’s worst cen­ter around . . . a thinly-veiled na­tional gun reg­is­tra­tion scheme hid­den un­der the guise of ‘back­ground checks’ to en­sure fed­eral government min­ders gain ev­ery bu­reau­cratic tool th

The Facts

There are a num­ber of as­ser­tions about Pres­i­dent Obama’s gun agenda in this e-mail that might be de­bat­able, but this one about a “thin­lyveiled na­tional gun reg­is­tra­tion scheme” caught our eye. As our col­leagues at have noted, this is also a fre­quent as­ser­tion by the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion.

But there is some­thing es­pe­cially un­usual about a cam­paign aide to McCon­nell mak­ing this claim. Let’s ex­plore.

Obama’s 15-page plan starts with a pro­posal for uni­ver­sal back­ground checks, specif­i­cally ways to close po­ten­tial loop­holes.

As we re­vealed pre­vi­ously, at least one claim in this sec­tion — that “nearly 40 per­cent of all gun sales are made by pri­vate sellers”— is in­cor­rect. But there is noth­ing in this sec­tion that ap­pears to cre­ate a na­tional gun reg­is­tra­tion scheme; it is aimed at ex­tend­ing the cur­rent Brady law rule on back­ground checks to all firearm sales, “with lim­ited, com­mon-sense ex­cep­tions for cases like cer­tain trans­fers be­tween fam­ily mem­bers and tem­po­rary trans­fers for hunt­ing and sport­ing pur­poses.”

In­deed, cur­rent law specif­i­cally pro­hibits us­ing the Na­tional In­stant Crim­i­nal Back­ground Check Sys­tem (NICS) to cre­ate a fed­eral firearms reg­istry — which, iron­i­cally, is a sell­ing point for gun deal­ers.

Ohio Guns, a fed­er­ally li­censed gun seller that ad­ver­tises on the Web, promi­nently quotes this fact in or­der to as­sure buy­ers. “This is not any type of firearm reg­is­tra­tion. In fact, the day af­ter an ap­proved NICS, your per­sonal iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion is de­stroyed by the FBI,” the Web site says, cit­ing an FBI doc­u­ment.

And why does the law say the records must be de­stroyed within 24 hours?

A con­fer­ence report ac­com­pa­ny­ing an ap­pro­pri­a­tions bill passed on Nov. 14, 2011, con­tained this lan­guage: “Sec­tion 511 per­ma­nently pro­hibits funds from be­ing used to im­ple­ment a Fed­eral user fee for back­ground checks con­ducted pur­suant to the Brady Hand­gun Con­trol Act of 1993, and to im­ple­ment a back­ground check sys­tem that does not re­quire and re­sult in the de­struc­tion of cer­tain in­for­ma­tion within 24 hours.”

Note that the lan­guage says this is a “per­ma­nent” change.

More­over, the con­fer­ence report in­cluded th­ese words in the sec­tion on ex­penses for the Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives: “That no funds ap­pro­pri­ated herein or here­after shall be avail­able for salaries or ad­min­is­tra­tive ex­penses in con­nec­tion with con­sol­i­dat­ing or cen­tral­iz­ing, within the De­part­ment of Jus­tice, the records, or any por­tion thereof, of ac­qui­si­tion and dis­po­si­tion of firearms main­tained by Fed­eral firearms li­censees.”

This is pretty sweep­ing lan­guage. The law not only man­dated the de­struc­tion of FBI records within 24 hours, but then it makes sure no one at ATF could even be­gin to think about such a reg­istry while on the clock.

And who served on this con­fer­ence com­mit­tee? Mitch McCon­nell.

Not only that, he voted for the fi­nal bill, as well — one of only 17 Se­nate Repub­li­cans to do so. As House and Se­nate ne­go­tia­tors met, he also signed a let­ter con­cern­ing the firearms data­base pro­hi­bi­tion, say­ing it should be made per­ma­nent. (Gen­er­ally such lim­it­ing lan­guage in ap­pro­pri­a­tions bills lasts only as long as the fis­cal year.)

Gun-con­trol foes have also sug­gested that the re­quire­ment that gun deal­ers re­tain Form 4473 — which con­tains in­for­ma­tion on guns that are sold — could be turned into some sort of reg­istry. A dealer must keep the form on file for 20 years and sur­ren­der it to the FBI if the shop goes out of busi­ness. But this has long been a fea­ture of the law and is un­re­lated to Obama’s pro­pos­als.

So, what has Obama said about a na­tional reg­istry? As Time mag­a­zine has noted, Obama in 2008 was asked about the idea dur­ing a de­bate and ap­peared to rule it out. “I don’t think that we can get that done,” he said. “But what I do think we can do is to pro­vide just some com­mon-sense en­force­ment.”

Ben­ton de­clined to pro­vide a com­ment for the record.

The Pinoc­chio Test

Ben­ton’s scare tac­tics do not pass muster. Foes of Obama’s pro­pos­als are wel­come to leap to all sorts of as­sump­tions about the im­pact of pro­posed laws, but such as­sump­tions must be grounded in facts.

Con­sid­er­ing that McCon­nell was di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for en­act­ing leg­is­la­tion that greatly lim­its the abil­ity of the fed­eral government to cre­ate a fed­eral reg­istry, Ben­ton’s claim that Obama’s pro­posal for uni­ver­sal back­ground checks would lead to “full-scale con­fis­ca­tion” of guns is es­pe­cially strange.

Cre­at­ing such a reg­istry, let alone con­fis­cating guns, would re­quire over­turn­ing a fed­eral law that bears McCon­nell’s fin­ger­prints — some­thing highly un­likely in a di­vided Congress. Given his boss’s role in thwart­ing the sce­nario he con­jures up, Ben­ton earns Four Pinoc­chios. To read pre­vi­ous Fact Checker col­umns, go to wash­ing­ton­


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