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Gun background checks: How would Senate proposal work, exactly? (+video)

The Senate gun proposal extends background checks to purchases made at gun shows or online, but it doesn't affect sales to 'friends' or 'neighbors,' and it 'bans' creation of a national registry of gun owners.

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Gun dealers would also be allowed to use the NICS to run background checks on their own employees, though they would not be required to do so. The act would also “clarify” that current privacy laws don’t prohibit the submission of mental-health records into the NICS.

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Apropos of this, conservatives often complain that the federal government should try to enforce existing background-check laws before undertaking an expansion of gun control efforts. They say the feds undertake very few prosecutions of those who illegally try to buy firearms. Proponents of broader background checks say that prosecutions aren’t the right metric – the mere existence of the system scares off many potential illegal purchases, they say.

The second title of the bill is its heart. It would expand the current background check system to include all sales at gun shows, including those made from nonfederally licensed dealers. Sales between private individuals on or near the show premises would also become subject to checks.

“Our bill ensures that anyone buying a gun at a gun show has to undergo a background check by a licensed dealer,” says Manchin’s online summary of the legislation.

Checks for online sales are expanded, as well.

Right now, if you buy a firearm online from a seller in another state, you have to go to a licensed dealer and get a background check before you can pick up the gun in question. But if you buy online from someone within your own state, no such check is required. The gun can be sold without the buyer and seller ever meeting in person.

The Toomey-Manchin effort would close the in-state loophole.

“All purchases buying guns online must undergo a background check by a licensed dealer,” holds Manchin’s summary of the legislation.

As for keeping records of firearm sales, nothing will change, according to Manchin and Toomey. Gun dealers will keep records of transactions in bound books, as they do now.

Bill wording “bans” the federal government from creating a registry of gun owners, and it makes the misuse of gun records to make a registry a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Both Toomey and Manchin have noted that their effort does not prevent family members, friends, and neighbors from buying and selling firearms from one another. The bottom line is that the bill really makes no change in existing law as it applies to gun sales by individuals that don’t take place at gun shows or online. Those can occur without background checks. Even a federal regulator might find it daunting to define “friend” and “neighbor” for the purposes of this bill, after all.

The third and last title of the bill would establish a commission to study the causes of mass violence in the United States. Said commission would be empowered to look at everything from guns and mental-health care to depictions of violence in the media and violent video games.


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