Deception on Gun Background Checks
A strange thing happened after 45 senators killed a bill to expand background checks for gun buyers five weeks ago: many of those same senators suddenly discovered a profound affection for background checks. They had been for them all along, it turns out, and wanted nothing more than to keep guns out of the hands of felons.
“Knowing your interest in gun control, I wanted to give you an update on legislation I have co-sponsored and supported recently,” Senator Dean Heller, Republican of Nevada, wrote to his constituents earlier this month. “I have been adamant from the beginning of the gun control debate that our current background check system needs strengthening and improving.”
Mr. Heller says he was a co-sponsor of a bill called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System Reporting Improvement Act. He doesn’t explain that the bill would have made it easier for people involuntarily committed to mental institutions to own guns. And nowhere does he mention that he actually voted against a far more important proposal, sponsored by Senators Joe Manchin III and Patrick Toomey, that would have required background checks for buyers at gun shows and over the Internet.
That bipartisan measure would have closed a gap that has let millions of guns get into the wrong hands. At the time, Mr. Heller said he voted against it because it would have led to the creation of a gun registry, though the bill would actually have made such a registry explicitly illegal.
This kind of dissembling by gun control opponents has been rampant for years, but rarely have the National Rifle Association’s most captive lawmakers been so nakedly deceptive as in the weeks since public rage grew over the gun vote.
Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, also voted against the Manchin Toomey measure, and she immediately suffered the backlash of angry voters in her state. So she issued a statement saying “I support effective background checks” and reminding voters that she had backed the misleadingly named Protecting Communities and Preserving the Second Amendment Act — a measure that does nothing to close the loopholes for Internet or gun-show sales and that was, in fact, supported by the N.R.A. because it actually makes it easier to transport guns across state lines.
Polls have shown that the vast majority of New Hampshire residents support checks on all gun sales. Infuriated by Ms. Ayotte’s attempt to paper over her own voting record, Mayors Against Illegal Guns (a group financed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg) produced a video ad pointing out that she was the only New England senator to vote against background checks “when it counted.”
These ads are having an effect, putting many gun-lobby senators on the defensive. Rather than admit that they fearfully follow the dictates of the N.R.A., these senators are instead seeking to fool voters by supporting measures with fancy titles and hollow cores. “Contrary to the ad, I did vote to strengthen background checks,” said Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, though he emphatically did not.
This issue is not going away. The true supporters of background checks have promised another vote in the months to come. Those who really want to keep guns out of the wrong hands will have to stand up and prove it.