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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, it is a privilege to join my colleagues in support of the Gun Show Background Check Act to reduce gun violence. Closing this dangerous loophole in current Federal gun laws will make gun show transactions safer for all our people.

Americans overwhelmingly favor responsible gun control laws. They want effective background checks for firearm purchases at gun shows or anywhere else. Yet, year after year, the ``gun show loophole'' allows firearms to be purchased with no questions asked, and legislation is urgently needed to close this flagrant loophole in our current gun laws.

Under today's laws, licensed gun dealers must be approved, must register with the Federal Government, and must conduct background checks on gun buyers who come to their stores. But in most States, almost anyone can be an unlicensed private seller of guns. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was one such private seller at gun shows. These private sellers have no obligation to conduct criminal background checks on buyers or keep any records at all about the sale. It is no surprise that felons and other prohibited gun buyers go to gun shows to buy guns in order to evade background checks. That is unacceptable. Closing the gun show loophole and requiring background checks for purchasers at gun shows is vital for public safety.

The Gun Show Background Check Act defines gun shows as any event at which 50 or more firearms are offered or exhibited for sale and requires gun show promoters to register with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. It requires the promoters to maintain a list of vendors at all gun shows, and these vendors must acknowledge receipt of information about their legal obligations. It also requires that all firearm sales at gun shows go through a Federal Firearms Licensee. Private vendors and nonlicensed persons will be required to complete the sale of weapons using such a licensee, who will be responsible for conducting a background check on the purchaser and maintaining a record of the transaction. Finally, the bill improves the tracing of firearms by requiring these licensees to submit information about firearms sold at gun shows to the ATF's National Tracing Center.

Approximately 50 percent of all gun sales in the U.S. today are ``private'' sales made by individuals at thousands of gun shows. No proof of identification and no criminal background check are required. Even after the horrific events of September 11, suspected terrorists and felons can easily purchase any quantity of firearms, including military style assault weapons, without an ID or background check at gun shows in 32 States. Federal law permits gun owners to sell rifles, shotguns, and even assault weapons to children, without their parent's knowledge or permission.

It is not enough to leave this issue any longer to State action. As John Rosenthal, founder of the nonprofit organization, Stop Handgun Violence, has pointed out, Massachusetts has enacted some of the most effective laws to prevent gun violence in the country, but Massachusetts is surrounded by States, which have no such laws and allow individuals to buy and sell guns easily. According to ATF data for 2006, many of the gun crime weapons recovered in Massachusetts had been obtained in other States with little or no regulation of firearms sales.

Critics claim that mandating background checks at gun shows will not reduce crime significantly and will be a step towards banning private firearms sales between individuals. Some even make the preposterous claim that there is no gun show loophole, and that gun control advocates are trying to address a non-existing problem. Evidence clearly proves, however, that gun shows are an important source of the guns used in crime in the U.S. During the late 1990s, cases involving gun shows and flea markets accounted for 30 percent of all trafficked guns in the U.S. That is no surprise, since there are over 4,000 gun shows in the U.S. every year, and no Federal laws to regulate them. Statistics also show that States such as Massachusetts, where strict gun control legislation has been enacted, have significantly lower firearm fatality rates than States with lax gun laws.

In another appalling move, the Bush administration successfully pushed legislation requiring the FBI to destroy records of approved gun purchases within 24 hours of a completed background check. That action prevents law enforcement from identifying whether a person under investigation for another crime, including terrorism, has purchased a firearm. In addition, if federally licensed gun dealers fail to report stolen or missing guns, they face only misdemeanor charges, despite the fact that thousands of guns are stolen from gun stores every year. The rifle used by the DC sniper was ``lost'' by a gun store--the same store that ``lost'' 238 guns in 3 years.

We can't ensure public safety unless we stop kowtowing to the gun lobby. We can't accept a system that allows criminals and terrorists to buy guns at gun shows without detection. The gun show loophole should have been closed long ago. I urge my colleagues to enact this vital legislation to do that. I commend Senator Lautenberg and Senator Reed for introducing this bill, and I look forward to its enactment into law as soon as possible. Too many lives are on the line for us to delay any longer.

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