Is the NRA winning?

The gun group is now fighting the least controversial part of the Senate guns package, making any action difficult

By Alex Seitz-Wald
Published April 2, 2013 4:18PM (EDT)
  (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

As Congress took up gun control legislation earlier this year, no one thought it would be easy to pass everything, but everyone assumed it would be possible to pass something. That may now be in doubt.

Of the four main components of the gun control package put forward by Democrats, the most controversial and difficult to pass was the assault weapon ban. That's since been tossed overboard, as was the next most controversial item, a ban on high capacity ammunition magazines.

The third most politically difficult proposal was an expansion of background checks to cover all or most gun sales. After productive bipartisan talks, advocates were optimistic about their prospects, and passage, at least in the Senate, seemed likely. But in the past few weeks, Republicans have backtracked, and universal background checks are now on life support.

The fourth piece -- a federal law cracking down on straw purchasers and gun trafficking -- seemed like a slam dunk just a month ago, as even the NRA wasn't registering any objections. But the Washington Post reports today that the gun group seems to have had a change of heart and is now be trying to severely weaken the proposed law:

On the separate gun-trafficking measure, the NRA is circulating a proposed revision that critics say would eviscerate the principles agreed to last month by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee’s bill would criminalize all “straw purchases” at licensed gun dealers. But the NRA’s draft language would require law enforcement officials to prove that the straw purchaser had reason to believe the buyer was prohibited from obtaining guns or knew that the buyer intended to commit a crime, according to an analysis of the NRA proposal provided to The Washington Post by the Bloomberg-led mayors group.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns director Mark Glaze said the language the NRA is circulating would create an impossible standard for law enforcement officials trying to bring prosecution against gun traffickers, calling the plan “ridiculous.”

For its part, the NRA denies it's trying to bring down the trafficking proposal, saying the draft is merely the type of thing that "always circulates in the course of the legislative process.”

If a robust trafficking law can't make it through the Democratically controlled Senate, then the hope for passing any meaningful gun control legislation is probably doomed. And as we get further away from the memory of Sandy Hook, and closer to the 2014 election, the prospects become more difficult. It's possible the NRA proposal will get rejected, and something good will pass, but the attack on the trafficking laws underscores how much ground has been lost in the past month of the gun control debate.

Alex Seitz-Wald

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Gun Control Guns Nra Universal Background Checks