Coming to you directly from the Hart Senate Office building where the Senate Judiciary Committee is conducting the first hearing on gun regulation since the Newtown mass shooting, entitled, “What Should America Do About Gun Violence?”
Chairman Leahy’s (D-VT) exchange with NRA Executive VP Wayne LaPierre has been the most interesting so far. Mr. Leahy challenged Mr. LaPierre to answer a yes-or-no question of whether the latter believed background checks for sales at gun shows should be extended to those between private individuals, which are currently exempted under the so-called “gun show” loophole. “Do you support instant criminal background checks at gun shows, yes or no?” He had begun his line of questioning by noting that, in 1998, Mr. LaPierre stated that he did.
After much dancing and dodging, Mr. Leahy threw down a gauntlet, insisting that Mr. LaPierre answer the question directly. Should we have mandatory checks for all gun sales, he asked. Does the NRA believe that?
“No, we do not,” Mr. LaPierre finally conceded, parrying, “I do not believe that the way the laws are working at present,” it would make sense to extend the background check requirement to private sales. He referred to at least 44 laws on the books related to illegal possession and use of firearms, and specifically decried cases under said laws which “this administration is failing to prosecute.” (Later on, fellow-witness David Kopel referred to a University of Syracuse study that found a dramatic decline in such prosecutions since their 2004 peak under the Bush Administration.)
Mr. LaPierre made a few other points. Mr. Leahy eventually cut him off — “my time has expired” — but took a few moments to add, smiling, that that was not the question he was asking. There was laughter from the public gallery.
Not as many sparks are flying as might have been anticipated, but they are certainly not absent.