Senators Chris Murphy and John Cornyn are negotiating a way to bolster background check laws by closing a loophole.
A bill to require background checks on nearly all gun purchases passed in the House in March but hasn’t gone anywhere in the Senate.
Murphy and Cornyn believe they have a fix that can garner broad support among Senate Republicans.
The two want to define who is required to register as a federal firearms licensee, or FFL, and conduct FBI checks on buyers before selling a gun.
“We need to clear that up,” Cornyn said. “That by definition will make more people get background checks because all federal firearms licensees have to background checks.”
“What we’re trying to protect, or carve out, are the hobbyist and or casual transactions between friends and family members, but capture the people who literally are making a living and making a profit selling firearms, and give that to the U.S. attorneys to prosecute.”
In most states, unlicensed individuals can sell firearms without a background check — a private-seller loophole.
“There is interest about reclassifying – about clarifying who is a dealer, who isn’t. It’s very difficult to enforce because the statute is ridiculously vague right now,” Murphy said. “We’re talking about a number of ideas. That’s one of them.”
Cornyn was motivated to change the law after a shooter in Odessa, Texas exploited the loophole.
“But then he went to an unlicensed dealer who bought parts and assembled those – but basically was in the business of manufacturing firearms,” Cornyn said. “But because he was not a federal firearms licensee – because he was evading that requirement – he didn’t do a background check, and this guy got this AR-15 lookalike and killed a lot of innocent people.”
Cornyn and Murphy wrote the “Fix NICS” legislation to improve reporting into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The bill passed Congress in 2017 and was signed into law.
John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said that the two are moving in a positive direction.
“Still, the devil is in the details, and any agreement needs to reflect the fact that Americans across party lines want to strengthen background checks to keep more guns away from people who shouldn’t have them, like criminals and domestic abusers,” Feinblatt said.