By Mike Lillis - 01/12/11 08:10 PM EST
A senior House Democrat on Wednesday introduced legislation designed to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals and the mentally ill.
Sponsored by Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), the proposal would prevent recently unlicensed gun dealers from selling their stock fire-sale-style without first performing background checks on the buyers.
“After this weekend’s tragedy, it’s clear that Congress must close troubling loopholes in federal gun control laws that let firearms fall into the hands of convicted felons, fugitives, domestic violence perpetrators and severely emotionally disturbed individuals,” Ackerman said in a statement. “Every gun sold should require a background check, period.”
The primary suspect in the Arizona shootings, Jared Lee Loughner, had been expelled from community college after exhibiting disturbing behavior, and was denied entrance to the military for a history of drug abuse, according to numerous reports. Yet he was able to buy a firearm in November from a local, licensed dealer.
Ackerman's bill would not have prevented Loughner's purchase, but is designed to block gun sales to others with similar histories.
Since 1994, licensed firearms dealers have been required to perform background checks on all potential gun buyers — a precautionary measure designed to screen for violent felons, illegal immigrants, drug abusers and the mentally ill, among others.
The screening requirement applies to sales of all guns considered part of a dealers' business inventory, as well as most guns considered part of a dealers' personal collections.
But gun dealers who have their licenses revoked for legal infractions can transfer the business inventory into their personal collections, and then sell off the firearms without any background checks. Gun-control advocates refer to this as the "fire-sale loophole."
"Pharmacists who lose their licenses can’t sell prescription drugs to people without prescriptions, yet gun dealers who lose their licenses can sell off their inventory — without even conducting background checks," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement endorsing Ackerman's bill.
It's not the only gun-law loophole Democrats are targeting in the wake of Saturday's shootings. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) this week said the shooting is clear indication that Congress should close the so-called "gun-show loophole” as well. That's a reference to the hobbyists and other unlicensed gun sellers who have no obligation to perform background checks at gun shows or other venues.
That loophole, Quigley said Tuesday, makes the screening process required by licensed dealers all but futile.
"Whatever rules are on the books aren't enforced if there's a gun-show loophole," Quigley said in a phone interview.
Still, even staunch gun-reformers like Quigley aren't optimistic that lawmakers will tighten the nation's gun laws — even following the attempted assassination of one of their own.
"The gun lobby has stymied debate," he said. "It's kept members from even discussing this issue."