Harry Reid is beginning debate on a gun control package that would create universal background checks. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Tuesday afternoon he would file for cloture on a comprehensive gun control package that would create universal background checks, dramatically stiffen penalties for straw purchases and gun trafficking, and fund improvements in school safety.
Reid will move to begin debate on the bill Tuesday night, and so that vote will occur Thursday. Many Republican Senators have said they are willing to at least allow debate on the gun control package as long as they can offer amendments, which Reid will allow—so Thursday will probably see over 60 votes to kick off debate on the bill.
But a contentious Senate floor fight lies ahead. On Wednesday morning, a deal to loosen some of the background check language will be announced. Is it enough to placate far-right conservatives (and some Democrats, like perhaps Montana Senator Max Baucus)? This group might still be able keep the Senate debate from ending and thus prevent a final vote if they can win over just a small handful of allies. What other provisions will be weakened, if any?
Reid initially moved ahead with the uncompromised bill containing all the language of the Senate Judiciary Committee. (There are no measures on banning assault weapons or limiting magazine clips, however—though Reid will allow separate votes on both as amendments.) Now, presumably the language will be amended to reflect the Toomey-Manchin compromise.
Here’s a comprehensive guide to what’s in the bill the Senate will now consider, with special note of where Senators really want to make changes.
Universal Background Checks
Right now, FBI background checks are only required for commercial sales—meaning that people can make purchases at a gun show or online and avoid any kind of background check.
The marquee feature of this gun control package is to require a background check for virtually every gun transaction: commercial, private, online, or in person, with very narrow exceptions. Only these private transfers of weapons wouldn’t be subject to a background check:
“bona fide gifts” between immediate family members or grandparents.
A transfer of a gun from a decedent’s estate, pursuant to a legal will.
A temporary transfer, but only ones that last less than seven days and where the gun doesn’t leave the licensed owner’s home or property.
Temporary transfers a shooting range or shooting competition, so that customers or competitors don’t have to bring or buy a gun.
Between individuals while hunting or trapping, provided it’s happening in-season and the transferee has any necessary hunting licenses.
How many more gun purchases would now be subject to a background check, where they weren’t before? The statistics are fuzzy. President Obama and gun control advocates claim as many as 40 percent of gun sales don’t pass through a background check, but as it turns out that’s based on a 1994 study of 251 people, and included three years where background checks weren’t even required. Controlling for gifts and inheritances, which are still allowed under this bill, the number in that study drops to 26.4 percent. More recent, conservative estimates say somewhere between 14 and 22 percent of gun purchases aren’t subject to a background check but would be under the new law.