By Greg Abbot
The Trace (9/3/19)
When the man who would go on to commit the Odessa, Texas, mass shooting went to a gun dealer and tried to buy a firearm, the system worked as designed. An itinerant oil worker, he had a history of volatile behavior, and the records reviewed by the FBI examiner handling his gun background check indicated he was barred from gun ownership because of a serious mental health issue. The sale was blocked, and he went home empty handed.
But the state of Texas doesn’t require background checks for private sales. And according to a local ABC station, that’s how the Odessa gunman acquired an AR-15-style rifle. On August 31, he used it shoot 32 people in a multicounty spree that left seven people dead.
The background check system once stopped some shooters from getting a gun. But in Texas, like 29 other states, private sellers don’t have to vet their customers.
Texas isn’t alone — 29 states don’t require any screenings on gun sales between individuals, according to Giffords. That means that sales facilitated at gun shows or arranged online may happen without government oversight, as long as they occur between private parties.
When someone wants to purchase a gun from a licensed gun dealer, they must submit to a screening by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. The federal government blocks gun sales for 12 reasons. (Some states choose to run their own checks.) The FBI says its background checks have a 99 percent accuracy rate. Since 1998, NICS has blocked more than two million transactions.
Those safeguards are not in place for an unregulated private sales. The gap in the law has created a thriving gray market of firearms and provides a means for people with criminal records or other disqualifying factors to easily access weapons. According to research by the Harvard Injury Control Center, roughly one in five American gun owners obtained a gun without undergoing a background check.
Scot Thomasson, a former agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who worked trafficking cases for decades, said private sales to people with histories of crime or violent behavior to avoid witnesses and make prosecutions difficult. “They work by creating anonymity for the purchaser,” he said. “Drug dealer, rapist, murderer — private sales are a means for criminals to skirt legal means to obtain [firearms].”
Universal background checks enjoy broad public support, but have faced stiff resistance from Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and in state capitols across the nation. As the frequency of mass shootings has intensified, but there are suggestions that conservative lawmakers may be more open to considering the policy as a means to reduce gun violence.
Last month, on the heels of consecutive mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, President Donald Trump spoke favorably of universal background checks, calling them “important.” Trump later walked back his comments after speaking with the National Rifle Association.
Senate Democrats have called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to support an expansion of background checks for private sales, as well. McConnell said he would discuss possible legislation, but said he would only bring it up for a vote if the president says he’d sign it.
Even Republicans in staunch Second Amendment-supporting states like Texas have begun to waver on their stance. Governor Gregg Abbott, broke the news that the Odessa gunman failed a check on Twitter.
Before the news of private sale to the Odessa gunman was confirmed by journalists, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick told The Texas Tribune that “we don’t know how this person got the gun — but we do know that that’s a real loophole in the law, and I think the NRA needs to get behind the president on that issue and really address that issue.”
- GOP Congressman Blasted For Appearing To Suggest He Lends Guns To Friends Who Wouldn’t Pass Background Checks — Texas Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw is once again attracting attention, this time after appearing to suggest he lends his handgun to friends who can’t pass a background check – or at least haven’t bothered to try. Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, posted a news story about a woman who fought off five people who allegedly attempted to rob her – she was armed and shot at least one of the suspected thieves. “Situations like this story are why we protect the 2nd Amendment,” the Republican lawmaker tweeted. “Side note,” he added. “With universal background checks, I wouldn’t be able to let my friends borrow my handgun when they travel alone like this. We would make felons out of people just for defending themselves.” … Read the Rest
Gun Control Groups Outspend NRA In Push For Senate Vote On Gun Bill
“The choice facing the Senate could not be clearer: Carry water for the NRA, or stand up for the majority of Americans demanding action to address our gun violence crisis.”
By Karl Evers-Hillstrom
Open Secrets (8/29/19)
Prominent gun control groups are airing six-figure ad campaigns to pressure Republican Senators to take up gun bills, while the nation’s leading gun rights organization is practically invisible.
In the wake of back-to-back mass shootings in early August, Giffords, run by former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), a survivor of gun violence, launched a nearly $750,000 ad campaign urging Republican senators to pass the House’s universal background checks bill. The Michael Bloomberg-funded Everytown for Gun Safety followed that up with a $1 million ad campaign urging action on background checks and red flag laws.
The two groups targeted Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who will decide whether the GOP-held Senate holds a vote on gun control bills when it returns from August recess. Both senators are up for reelection in 2020 and are expected to face well-funded challengers with hefty Democratic party support.
Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association, which opposes the proposals backed by gun control groups, hasn’t countered with an ad campaign of its own. The NRA’s ad spending has come on Facebook, where it spent less than $94,000 over the last 30 days. But these ads aren’t focused on the proposed gun control bills — they are recycled content that ask users to join the NRA. The influential gun rights group is instead relying on NRA president Wayne LaPierre’s direct line to President Donald Trump to shut down gun control legislation.
NRA internal troubles
The discrepancy in ad spending comes as the NRA struggles with unprecedented internal battles and troubling finances. And gun control groups are gaining momentum — during last year’s midterms, they outspent the NRA in FEC-reported outside spending for the first time.
Giffords’ ad campaign, which kicked off on August 6, has hit Gardner the hardest. Of nearly $552,000 in TV ad buys found in OpenSecrets’ political ad database, roughly $490,000 was spent to target Gardner in his home state.
The ad features a Colorado teacher named “Jody” and schoolchilden, just before flashing the phone number to Gardner’s office and urging viewers to tell him to support background checks. The McConnell-focused ad, which airs in several Kentucky cities, also uses the prospect of school shootings to appeal to viewers.
The TV ads from Everytown for Gun Safety, launched Tuesday as part of a $350,000 campaign, similarly target the Colorado and Kentucky senators who happen to be up for election in 2020. Gardner so far hasn’t budged on gun legislation, instead promoting his bill with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to expand funding for the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center, which focuses on violence prevention. McConnell has raised the possibility of a gun bill. The NRA spent $3.9 million to help Gardner win his Senate seat in 2014 and has spent more than $1.4 million backing McConnell.
“The choice facing the Senate could not be clearer: Carry water for the NRA, or stand up for the majority of Americans demanding action to address our gun violence crisis,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement Tuesday.
Both senators have said they would support red flag legislation modeled on a Florida law signed by then-Gov. Scott in 2017 in response to the Parkland mass shooting that left 17 dead. Because the Giffords and Everytown ads mention candidates but stop short of explicitly advocating for or against their election, they are not required to be disclosed to the FEC outside of the window before elections.
In addition to its TV ads, Everytown bought nearly $321,000 in Facebook ads over the last 30 days targeting a dozen Republican senators and state-level lawmakers. The group held a gun safety forum with prominent Democratic presidential candidates and its subsidiary Moms Demand Action is staging rallies around the country.
The NRA’s public relations campaign appears to be far less robust. But the group has faced, and defeated, gun control bills before.
In 2013, the group derailed a bill from Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) that would have expanded background checks to include guns sold on the internet and at gun shows. The two senators recently proposed a similar bill, but it faces steep challenges and has not earned the blessing of McConnell.
Most recently, the NRA attempted to defeat the House Democrats’ bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, citing its new red flag provisions. The bill has not received a vote in the Senate and the act remains expired.
Crucially, the NRA appears to have the ear of Trump — and it has reportedly warned the president that passing gun control legislation would hurt him with his conservative base. McConnell has typically waited on a green light from the president before allowing a vote on high-profile bills.
Learn more about the influence of gun rights and gun control groups in Washington.
- Truth In Labeling: San Francisco Officials Pass Resolution Declaring NRA A Domestic Terrorist Group — A resolution passed unanimously in San Francisco this week declares the National Rifle Association a domestic terrorist organization. The city’s board of supervisors passed the resolution on Tuesday, accusing the NRA of inciting gun violence and arming people who commit acts of terror across the U.S. … Read the Rest