Gun groups denounce push for handgun licenses

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The National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun rights advocates are assailing Democrats for a controversial legislative proposal that they say would restrict access to handguns. 

People would be required to obtain a license before purchasing some firearms under the Handgun Purchaser Licensing Act, which was introduced Thursday by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and a trio of Connecticut lawmakers.

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The legislation also seeks to expand background checks to all handgun sales and block people under the age of 21 from purchasing those firearms.

States could refuse to implement the handgun regulations, but would risk losing federal funding for doing so.

Though the legislation stands virtually no chance of passing the Republican Congress, the NRA expressed outrage at the proposal, calling it an attempt by Democrats to “delay and deny” gun purchases.

“They cannot ban guns because of the Constitution, so they want to make it so difficult for law-abiding citizens to exercise their constitutional right to self-protection,” said NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker.

"Someone should send them a copy of the Constitution — specifically, a copy of the Second Amendment,” she added.

The Handgun Purchaser Licensing Act would zero in on handgun purchases, but exempt rifles and other types of firearms.

It is backed by a study from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research that found handgun licenses dramatically reduce homicide rates.

“Of the thousands of Americans murdered every single year by firearms, nearly 90 percent of those deaths occur with a handgun,” Van Hollen said. “With mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and friends dying every day because of guns, there is no question that gun violence is tearing at the fabric of our communities."

In addition to Van Hollen, who is running for the Senate, three Connecticut Democrats back the handgun bill: Rep. Elizabeth Esty, Sen. Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalOvernight Tech: Groups grade Clinton tech agenda | Facebook activates safety check in Istanbul | Another holdup for location data bill Senate faces critical vote on Puerto Rico Reid backs House Puerto Rico bill MORE and Sen. Chris MurphyChris MurphyReid backs House Puerto Rico bill Meet the man who sparked the Democratic revolt on guns The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE. Connecticut was the site of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre in 2012.

Their bill would provide states with an incentive to strengthen their guns laws. States that follow through with the handgun regulations would receive federal funding to carry them out, while those that refused would risk losing money.

To qualify, states would have to implement laws that require prospective gun owners to apply for a firearms license from a local police station. They would be required to pass a background check, including submitting fingerprints and photographs.

Those who pass the background check would receive a firearms license that they must provide to purchase a handgun. 

The Democrats say the handgun bill would help law enforcement officials weed out criminals and other people who are not allowed to purchase guns.

But Dudley Brown, president of the National Association for Gun Rights, called it a "blatant attempt to fingerprint every law-abiding gun owner in the country like a common criminal."

"Since they support licensing for exercising Second Amendment freedoms, do they also support licensing of newspaper columns, political speeches and sermons?” asked Larry Pratt, executive director of the Gun Owners of America.

The lawmakers called it a gun safety solution.

“States require licenses to drive a car or even to fish in local rivers, so requiring a license to buy a deadly handgun is a commonsense step that could save countless lives,” Van Hollen said.

"Requiring a license to purchase a deadly weapon is at least as important as requiring one to drive a car,” Blumenthal said.

But gun rights advocates warned the proposal would effectively create a national gun registry.

"Driving a car and fishing are not constitutionally-protected rights,” Baker responded. “The Second Amendment protects our individual right to own a gun."

"One does not need the permission of the government in order to exercise a fundamental constitutional right,” added Larry Keane, senior vice president at the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

The bill is just the latest attempt by gun control advocates in Congress to close a background check loophole they say makes it easier for criminals to purchase guns.

Even though most gun owners go through lengthy background checks before purchasing a firearm from a licensed dealer, these same requirements do not always apply when buying guns online or at gun shows. 

Gun safety advocates say toughening the rules would reduce gun violence around the country.

"It shows the tremendous opportunity we have to prevent gun deaths and make all of us safer just by keeping guns out of the wrong hands through good policy like expanded background checks,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.