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Public Statements

USA Today - Mike Lee: Why I Voted Against Background Checks

Op-Ed

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By Sen. Mike Lee

Following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, the country was rightly focused on steps we might take to help stop such horrible crimes from happening. Unfortunately, the proposals offered in the Senate, including the expansion of background checks, would serve primarily to restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens, while doing little, if anything, to prevent the kind of tragic violent crimes that took place in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo.

The background-check amendment offered by Sens. Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin is too vague for law abiding citizens to understand with certainty, and too easy for criminals to avoid. The legislation creates more questions than it answers about which types of transfers are lawful without a background check and might ensnare law abiding gun owners who are simply exercising their constitutional rights. It also leaves in place a number of gaps that could easily be exploited by criminals intent on obtaining guns to commit violent crimes.

The Toomey-Manchin amendment admirably attempts to carve out certain protections for gun owners, but today's carve-outs are tomorrow's loopholes. The current "gun show loophole" was itself once considered a legitimate carve-out that protected certain private sales.

The amendment also takes an incremental step toward universal background checks, which, as a Department of Justice memo written earlier this year suggested, are effective only when coupled with a national registration system. Admittedly, the Toomey-Manchin plan prohibits a national registry. Yet although the amendment doesn't create a national database, it does require a massive expansion of gun ownership data collected by federally licensed dealers to which the government has access.

After all, you cannot track all gun sales without tracking all gun owners. But the government has no business monitoring constitutionally protected activity, like gun ownership, any more than it has any business tracking what books Americans read or how often they attend church.

Gun-control advocates point to polls that show support for expanding background checks. But members of Congress do not get to vote on broad poll questions. They have to vote on specific legislation. If we are trying to minimize the burden on law abiding gun owners while taking significant steps to prevent the next Sandy Hook, the Toomey-Manchin amendment fails both elements of that test.


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