By Mike Lillis - 04/18/11 10:19 PM EDT
The new head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is pushing for screenings of all gun purchases.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the current law, which allows private firearm sales without background checks, is "outrageous." The Florida Democrat is sponsoring a soon-to-be-released proposal extending the screening requirements to all gun purchases, commercial or private.
"It is outrageous that gun buyers evade the background-check system every day, even in broad daylight," Wasserman Schultz said Monday at a gun-reform rally in Miami sponsored by Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
The issue of gun reform rose in prominence in January after a shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz., left six people dead and 13 others injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), a close friend to Wasserman Schultz.
The suspect arrested in the shootings, Jared Lee Loughner, had been expelled from community college for disturbing behavior and denied entrance to the military for a history of drug abuse. Yet he was able to buy a firearm and high-capacity ammunition magazines from local, licensed gun dealers.
The tragedy inspired a series of gun-reform bills on Capitol Hill, and prompted President Obama to urge tougher screening rules.
"We should provide an instant, accurate, comprehensive and consistent system for background checks to sellers who want to do the right thing, and make sure that criminals can't escape it," the president wrote in a March op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star.
The comments broke a long silence from Obama on the gun-reform issue, which is often a third rail in Washington, where the gun lobby holds enormous sway.
That a lawmaker as prominent as Wasserman Schultz has come out so adamantly for reform is "indication that elected officials are catching up with the public," said Mark Glaze, director of the coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The reference was to recent polls indicating that voters — even gun owners — overwhelmingly support a system of across-the-board background checks.
"Her participation shows that there's a growing understanding that gun policy is about fighting crime, not taking away gun rights," Glaze said.
Wasserman Schultz will take the reins of the DNC later this month. Tim Kaine, the former governor of Virginia, stepped down to campaign for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.). Donna Brazile is serving as the interim chairwoman of the committee.
Under current law, licensed gun dealers are required to conduct background checks to ensure that prospective buyers are legally eligible to own firearms. Felons, illegal immigrants and the severely mentally ill, for instance, are barred from owning guns. Licensed dealers must perform these screenings in all venues — including gun shows — but unlicensed dealers are under no obligation to follow them anywhere. Critics of the policy discrepancy call it the "gun-show loophole."
The coming House legislation will require all gun sellers to perform background checks on potential buyers — a change forcing private sellers to finalize their sales at licensed dealers or law enforcement offices, which have access to the federal database used to weed out illegal buyers.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced similar legislation in the upper chamber earlier in the year.
"We cannot bring back those we have lost," Wasserman Schultz said Monday, "but we can honor them by doing everything we can to keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them."
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) is expected to introduce the House bill when Congress returns from spring recess.