PROTECTION OF LAWFUL COMMERCE IN ARMS ACT
Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, we will not propound a unanimous consent request because time is burning on the clock equally. The unanimous consent agreement that brought us here this morning largely allocated 4 hours of time between 1 and 4 p.m. to debate both the assault weapons ban and the gun show loophole argument.
At 4 o'clock, Senator Bingaman will be here to offer his amendment and that will be debated. We will vote at 5 p.m. Following that, the Levin amendment will be debated. Of course, we can debate into the evening on either of those two issues, if Senators so wish. Feeling they may not have gained time this afternoon to do so, there is no restriction in that.
For a few moments let me discuss the issue that is at hand, the effort to reinstate the assault weapons ban. In September of this year the law expires, so there is urgency on the part of those who believe it was an effective law to get it reinstated. I will argue in the next few moments it has made no difference and that statistics do demonstrate certain things, but statistics have to be placed in the right context of understanding how they were gained to show the ineffectiveness of this law and the ineffectiveness of the ban itself.
Semiautos are not the weapon of choice in the commission of nearly all the crimes in this country.
What is important is to understand where we are with S. 1805, the underlying bill and the ability to keep that bill as clean as possible so that it can get to the President's desk. The semiauto ban, the gun show loophole, and a variety of other issues could simply drag this bill down and deny substantial tort reform in an area that is narrow, that is specific, that is clean, that says to the American people: Yes, we are becoming responsible in denying the kinds of junk lawsuits that some push through the courts to legislate a public policy that they cannot effectively gain by bringing it to the Congress of the United States.
That is why the administration has been clear in its statement of administrative policy. On S. 1805, the administration strongly supports the passage of this legislation. The administration urges the Senate to pass a clean bill in order to ensure enactment of the legislation this year. Any amendment that would delay enactment of the bill beyond this year, in their opinion, is unacceptable. For myself, being the author of the amendment, I clearly agree with that.
The manufacturers or sellers of a legal, nondefective product should not be held liable for the criminal or unlawful misuse of
that product by others.
This is a continuation of the statement of administrative policy: The possibility of imposing liability on an entire industry for harm that is solely caused by others is an abuse of the legal system, erodes public confidence in our Nation's laws, threatens the diminution of a basic constitutional right and civil liberty, sets a poor precedent for other lawful industries, will cause a loss of jobs and burden interstate and foreign commerce. S. 1805 would help curb frivolous litigation against a lawful American industry and the thousands of workers it employs and would help prevent abuse of the legal system.
At the same time, the legislation would carefully preserve the rights of individuals to have their day in court with civil liability actions. These civil actions are enumerated in the bill and respect the traditional role of the States in our Federal system with regard to such actions.
That is the statement from the administration as it relates to this legislation. It is important because they are asking for a clean bill.
Listeners will hear me say time and time again over the course of today and tomorrow as we move to the vote on these amendments that are being debated today: Let's keep this bill clean. The legislative year is short. We have a bill that is supported now by a 2-to-1 vote margin in the Senate. This bill will pass this Senate by a fair margin. That expresses a bipartisan will of this Congress to get this bill to our President under the same context as the statement of administrative policy so spoke.
Let's talk about the amendment at hand at this moment, the assault weapon or semiauto ban. I prefer to call it a semiauto ban, and during the course of the next few minutes you will see why. The word, "assault," is by itself an image-getter. It is a cosmetic word that defines for some a certain type of firearm, at the same time sometimes as a weapon, obviously sometimes as a collector's piece. What more clearly identifies the issue at hand is the mechanism of the gun itself, the firearm itself. For the next few moments I will speak to that.
At the time this law was first enacted, most in Congress were very skeptical it would work. That is why there was a sunset provision included in the law. OK, if the law is able to accomplish this, let's see if, in fact, it can accomplish that. Let's make sure that Congress has an opportunity to revisit it, as we do quite often with laws we are not sure of, and therefore a sunset provision. The year is at hand, the sunset provision is such that this bill will expire. The results are in. These firearms are not, nor have they been generally-and I use the word "generally"-used in crime. The restrictions imposed by this law make no sense and only create a burden on law-abiding citizens and businesses.
It is my opinion we ought to let it expire. Again, it is another one of the bureaucratic hurdles we love to put in front of the law-abiding citizens of this country, knowing full well that the criminal on the ground does not play by the rules, and that in a civil society is the law. My arguments of the next few moments will show just that.
There continues to be a tremendous amount of misinformation about the firearms banned by this law and what the ban has accomplished, so let me go through some of the facts. Semiautomatic firearms were first introduced more than a century ago. The first semiautomatic rifle was introduced in 1885, the first small pistol in 1890. The first semiautomatic gun, the Browning automatic 5, was patented in 1900. Theodore Roosevelt, our United States President from 1901 through 1990, hunted with a semiauto shutgun.
Today, Americans own approximately 30 million semiautomatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns across the landscape of this great Nation, approximately 15 percent of privately owned firearms in the United States. About 15 percent of all firearms owned in the United States meet the definition of semiauto. What are they doing with these firearms? Semiauto rifles, including many defined as assault weapons-again, a definition of a term based on how a given weapon appears by the 1994 Federal gun ban-are used for formal marksmanship, competition, recreational target shooting, and hunting. Semiauto shotguns are very widely used for hunting, as well as skeet, trap and sporting clay shooting.
Many of us enjoy that sport and engage in it. Semiautomatic handguns are used in formal marksmanship competition, as well as for recreational shooting and hunting. Many semiautomatic firearms, including some affected by the Federal assault weapon law, are highly valued by gun collectors. They are also commonly kept and used, as witnesses testified during the hearings before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Crime in 1995, for protection against crime and criminals.
There is nothing intrinsically more dangerous about these firearms than others. In fact, they do less damage to a target than a shotgun does. Clearly, the shotgun, given the range, has by far the greater force. And they are functionally identical to thousands of other guns being used for legal purposes in this country today, functionally identical. Many people mistakenly believe these are machine guns which fire more than one bullet when the trigger is pulled. If someone was listening to this debate and they heard the words "spraying a crowd," they would think of a fully automatic weapon. That is simply not the case, and I think that fact needs to be clearly understood.
On the contrary, semiauto firearms do not spray bullets. They fire one bullet per trigger pull. The mechanism simply ejects the shell and replaces it with another bullet, and you have to pull the trigger again. That is a semiauto. Let's remember that fully automatic machine guns have been banned since 1934. This Congress spoke to that in 1934.
The Federal assault weapon law is set to expire, as I have said. It has prohibited the manufacture, since September 13, 1994, of a semiauto rifle equipped with a detachable magazine or two or more attachments, such as a bayonet lug or a flash suppressor, with similar guidelines imposed on handguns and shotguns. The manufacture of large ammunition magazines, holding more than 10 rounds, was also outlawed.
Now we are beginning to get into what is, by those who understand it, viewed as an assault weapon. It is the physical attributes of two or more attachments, such as a bayonet lug and a flash suppressor.
Assault weapons, large magazines manufactured before September 13, 1994, are exempt from the law. Before September 13, 1994, manufacturers accelerated production to increase inventories available for sale later.
After the law took effect, the BATF informed manufacturers that they could produce firearms identical to assault weapons but without one or more of the prohibited features. And that is a reality today. So again, when I use the word, "cosmetic," there is a lot more truth to that than fiction. If it does not look this way, if it does not have this particular item on it, but it shoots identically and it has the same firepower, well, then it is legal.
Also, new models of semiautomatics have been introduced, and the production of some previously discontinued models has resumed.
The ban affects firearms never widely used in crime, according to a study conducted by Congress-the Urban Institute, Impact Evaluation of the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994.
According to the FBI, rifles of any kind are used in only about 3 percent of homicides-only about 3 percent of homicides.
Here is an explanation of why a law-abiding gun owner would purchase one of these firearms. Now, I pulled it out of my files because I thought it was a good one because the Senator from California said: Well, these weapons are not for hunting purposes.
Yes, some people do hunt with them. Does it mean you simply machine gun down a deer? No, it does not mean that at all. It is because it is a weapon of choice, largely because it is lighter than many hunting weapons, and it can be carried by a smaller person.
In this instance, this person's name is Mary. She happens to be a licensed hunter in Idaho, and she happens to use a Colt AR-15. It is a semiauto that uses a 20-round clip. That is what she hunts her deer with. That is what she kills her deer with. So she and her boyfriend wrote us and sent a picture, saying: Look, what the semiauto ban of 1994 does is it eliminates this kind of firearm, and, in essence, it eliminates the ability of a smaller person to go out into the brush to hunt deer and to recreate in that fashion.
Now, the ban in 1994 did a couple of things. First of all, it named certain guns specifically. And I could go through that list of particular firearms that it actually named. Of course, the Senator from California is very well aware of that in crafting a specific list of firearms at that time. Some guns it only named by features.
A semiautomatic rifle that can accept a detachable magazine and has at least two of the following is included within the ban: a folding or telescoping stock, a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon, a bayonet mount, a flash suppressor or threaded barrel, a grenade launcher. But, then again, of course, the National Firearms Act already outlaws those, so even if this law expires in September of this year, it still is going to be illegal to have a grenade launcher, as it should be, unless you are a bona fide collector and have been given the authority to collect for collection purposes.
A semiautomatic pistol that can accept a detachable magazine and has at least two of the following: again, an ammunition magazine that attaches to the pistol outside of the pistol grip; a threaded barrel capable of accepting a barrel extender, flash suppressor, forward handgrip, or silencer; a shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles the barrel, and that permits the shooter to hold the firearm with the nontrigger hand without being burned; a manufactured weight of 50 ounces or more when the pistol is unloaded; and a semiautomatic version of an automatic firearm.
That is how technical this law has become.
Here is another one: a semiautomatic shotgun that has at least two of the following: a folding or telescoping stock, a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon, a fixed magazine in excess of five rounds, and an ability to accept a detachable magazine.
But here is something that is important to understand. You know the old phrase, "Let's make the record perfectly clear." I think it is appropriate.
What were banned by other laws that will still be banned after this law expires? I think I heard reference to the popularity of the AK-47, a foreign rifle, and Uzis. Well, they were banned from importation in 1989, under Federal firearms importation law-now 18 USC 925(d)(3). The use of gun parts to assemble the same guns in the United States was prohibited by the Unsoeld amendment in 1990. In 1993, the so-called assault pistols, like the Uzi pistol, were banned under the importation law. In February of 1994, revolving cylinder shotguns-I have heard the words used here, and they were commonly called "Street Sweepers" and "Striker-12s"-were banned under the National Firearms Act.
So those will still be illegal firearms to traffic in, to commerce in. And as a result of that, it is important that we make the record perfectly clear that ownership of these prior to the passage of the law but after the passage of the law, these do not go away.
Again, as I have said, after the assault weapons law expires, here is what will happen. American-made rifles, such as the AR-15, will once again be made in their original configurations. Private citizens will also, once again, be able to buy standard capacity ammunition-magazines usually between 13- and 17-round capacity-instead of the arbitrarily reduced capacity 10-round magazines the law imposed, a change that will assist in defending themselves against criminals and for recreational purposes. In other words, what a difference a law makes.
Well, in this instance, the difference the law made was it kept firearms of these type and by definition out of the hands of law-abiding citizens. But if you are a criminal, if you want to deal in the back streets and in the black market, as most criminals do, then you are not going to walk in and try to buy one of these off the shelf. That is why criminals will have them, because you cannot acquire them off the shelf because it is illegal under the current law, and you would not be able to anyway if you were a criminal. It is the law-abiding citizens who subject themselves to the laws, as they should.
Now, is this statistic that I have in front of me accurate? The Senator from California had a chart a few moments ago that would indicate quite the difference. In fact, she showed a declining number in the statistics. This statistic is accurate. Bureau of Justice statistics, Department of Justice: Before the semiautomatic firearms ban, less than 2 percent of crimes in this country were semiauto. After the ban, 1997 and forward, less than 2 percent were. Same figure.
How is it possible, then, that the Senator from California gets the statistic and the chart that shows the decline? I am not suggesting she misrepresents this chart, because I believe this chart to be accurate, and I believe it is accumulated in a nonbiased way.
Let me try to talk about the use of and/or the misuse of what is known as tracing data. There is a problem when using firearm commerce tracing reports justifying any assault weapon law. Let me try to walk you through this. Is this technical? It is a bit technical. But the CRS looked at it and they agree with this figure. That is the research service that we employ in a nonpartisan way to give us accurate facts and statistics about those items we debate on the floor.
More than a decade ago, the CRS examined the firearms tracing system in the context of the assault weapon issue and determined that information derived from traces should not be used to determine how often any kind of guns-not just assaults or semiautos-were used by criminals. One of the key limitations of the tracing system is the fact most guns that are traced have not been used to commit violent crimes, and most guns that are used to commit violent crimes are never traced. The tracing system was designed to collect statistics. The Congressional Research Service said this:
Fire arms selected for tracing do not constitute a random sample and cannot be considered representative of the large universe of all firearms used by criminals or of any subset of that universe.
CRS also noted that:
A law enforcement officer may initiate a trace request for any reason. No crime need be involved.
It pointed out that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and Explosives admitted:
It is not possible to determine if traced firearms are related to criminal activity.
In other words, it is just a matter of gaining certain statistics on certain items.
One problem with the tracing system in the context of assault weapons is that before the assault weapon law was enacted, traces on those guns were requested disproportionate to their use in crimes. That is because there was so much political interest in the guns at the time. It was the talk of the day, if you will. It was the placebo of action in 1994 that gave us the political law we have today that still represents those figures, known as the assault weapons ban. That is why it was disproportionate. Why? Political interests, a lot of questions being asked.
Certainly crimes that were committed using a semiauto or an assault weapon in this percentage of 2 percent or less were highly dramatized at the time. That is because there was, again, so much action today. A decade later, they constitute a smaller share of traces because there has been less interest in them and because other guns are now being traced more heavily. In other words, the decline in the Senator's chart, in my opinion, represents that shift in attitude and in attention, if in fact you use tracing data as a way to determine that semiautos/assault weapons are being used in the commission of the crime. That is the reason for this statistic from the Department of Justice.
While they look at these kinds of statistics, they don't believe them valid. Because of the method by which they are collected, they are viewed as heavily inaccurate if used in certain contexts. To determine the extent to which assault weapons have been used in crimes, we have to look at State and local law enforcement agency reports on prime weapons. That is the Department of Justice's felony survey and the congressionally mandated study on the assault weapon law. They all show assault weapons have been used in only a very small percentage of violent crimes. That is the reason for that statistic.
Well, getting technical about a technical issue is important. We can talk about all of the dramatics and the tragedies that happen when firearms are misused. We can talk about Columbine, and there are a lot of kinds of things that are, appropriately so, to emote the kind of emotion all of us feel and understand when these kinds of firearms are used improperly and illegally.
But what happens when we start banning them, we have all learned, is that it is the law-abiding citizen who may own them and use them responsibly and who may be collecting them that is blocked by the law. The criminal is not.
In this survey that the Department of Justice uses, they go out and survey criminals. They surveyed 14,000 of them locked up in prison and, as a result of that, that figure, along with a good many others, I think clearly demonstrates the dramatic and important side of this issue.
Well, I will talk through the balance of the day on this issue. But I think it is important that we demonstrate in its appropriate context the information we are providing.
In my opinion, based on CRS's studies, based on the Department of Justice studies, to say the assault weapons ban law has dramatically worked since 1994 is inappropriate. The reality is that it was less than 2 percent in 1991, and less than 2 percent after its passage in 1997 and beyond. That statistic holds today, in my opinion, based on the sources that I quote, which I believe are valid and justifiable. There are a good many more statistics that I can talk about, and we will throughout the course of the day.
Let me return to my initial argument. I think we have the opportunity to, in a very narrow and specific way, protect law-abiding people-gun manufacturers, licensed gun dealers who play by the rules that this Congress has laid down, and provide a quality product to Americans under their second amendment rights. But what we now see is a class of lawsuit out there that is designed for one reason: to control guns. It is a new form of gun control, because the gun control advocates of this country who continually came to Congress through the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, saying we have to have gun control to save people's lives, found out that we read the statistics, we looked at the facts, and we said no. They decided they would go through the courts and they would begin to, by law or by action of the court, attempt to legislate those kinds of actions-
in this case, by penalizing a law-abiding citizen for a third party action.
Let me close with this thought. It happened to me once again this morning. I was on the phone to my State of Idaho in a radio interview. The interviewer said:
Senator, we watch what you are doing on the floor of the Senate. How is that any different from suggesting that-
And he used the particular automobile, the Chevy truck. He said:
How is what you are doing any different from suggesting if a drunk driver uses a Chevy truck and runs over someone and kills them, that Chevrolet is responsible for that third party action?
Frankly, there is no difference. That is why it is important that this Congress reinstate the historic tort law as we understand it. Individuals are held responsible for their actions. That is what the administration is asking us to do.
That is what we are doing in S. 1805. Let's not extend the assault weapon ban, add it to S. 1805 and risk a failure to pass this very important piece of legislation.
I yield the floor.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, we have just heard an explanation as to why we ought to change a law on gun commerce in this country. It has largely been touted as a loophole. My contention this afternoon and my contention has always been that there is not a loophole because if there is one, it exists outside of gun shows if it exists inside of gun shows.
Gun shows are, in fact, a mirror image of gun commerce in this country. An individual can sell a gun without a federally licensed firearm permit to do so, but if he or she is in the business of selling guns, then they have to have that license.
It is also true in gun shows. When you walk through the door of a gun show, the law has not changed nor does it change. But under the McCain-Reed amendment, they are suggesting it should change and that this particular cloistered environment of a gun show ought to be something new and different.
We have heard the explanation. Let me attempt to set the record straight this afternoon because it is important we understand that an attempt is being made to set a whole new tranche of Federal regulations against what has historically been U.S. commerce that was legal and law-abiding.
Gun shows grew out of the firearms collectors associations that were formed as part of this country's commerce in legitimate firearms in the early 20th century. Those associations remain active today and some became national and even international organizations and some sponsor gun shows.
Commercial gun shows first appeared largely after World War II. They are large, well-advertised public events in convention centers and similar facilities. Annually, some 4 million people attend gun shows. Four million people attend these kinds of efforts in gun commerce.
Behind me is a picture of a typical gun show. I have attended numerous of them over the years. You will see all kinds of displays, from educational material to actual firearms.
Gun shows provide an opportunity for people interested in gun selecting and in the shooting sports to examine and learn about many different types of firearms, as well as to buy and to sell or to trade guns, ammunition, and related materials. Notice I said "to buy and to sell or to trade guns, ammunition, and related materials." Right now if you are buying and selling and moving guns and ammunition and related material for your living and you are in the commerce of firearms, you have to be a federally licensed firearm dealer. But if you are a collector, if you are an individual and you do not commerce in guns, you do not make your living by doing commerce in guns, you do not have to be federally licensed. But you could still go to a gun show, you could still rent a table, and you could sell an occasional firearm.
Why? Because the law outside is the same law today that is inside, and the Reed-McCain amendment would say: Oh, no, we have now established for you the raw example of the unique thing that goes on at a gun show and, therefore, it ought to be licensed. What they fail to say is, but in the back streets of America where there are gun traffickers and black market dealers, we would really like to license them, too, but, of course, they are criminals and you cannot get them licensed, and they won't play by the rules.
To suggest that guns are sometimes sold at a gun show that might enter into a criminal act, I am not going to stand here and deny that because guns that are bought from legitimate licensed firearm dealers, bought by a straw person are finding their way into misuse for criminal purposes. That is the reality of the world in which we live, but that is not the norm.
Finally, at the end of all of this debate, Senator Reed acknowledged that a very large majority of those who attend gun shows are law-abiding, honest citizens who go there for all the right purposes. But he is suggesting that we have to have this one little special dot on the legal map because it is uniquely different from everything that goes on outside of a gun show.
If you want to traffic in guns, you can set up across the street from a gun show, and yet his law would not pertain to that person. If they happen to be standing out there and open the trunk of their car and try to persuade people who come in and out of a gun show that they ought to buy from them, isn't that somehow a misconception of reality? I think it is.
Gun shows are also important venues for those interested in the general ownership of guns and the general manufacture of them. Gun rights groups frequently set up booths at gun shows and distribute literature. Attendees share information to work together to protect what I believe is their constitutionally mandated right in this country to have fair, open access to firearms. Therefore, gun shows are an important part of what we in this country call the political process.
Free speech under the first amendment-I know in going to gun shows, a lot of dialog ensues between those who are attending. Why? Because they are advocates; because they are collectors; because they are vocal in their constitutional rights.
It is estimated that more than 1,000 commercial gun shows are held each year in this country. A typical gun show will have approximately 300 exhibitors offering items for sale and educational display. The paid public attendance at an average gun show can be estimated at about 4,000 people. Generally, gun shows are held in a 2- or 3-day timeframe over a weekend. Larger shows attract exhibitors and patrons from hundreds if not thousands of miles away.
Gun shows today are regulated by State law in relation to gathering and commerce and by local ordinances as is appropriate for all large gatherings that cities would want to know about and have registered.
Let us talk about statistics. I think I can, by what I just said, establish the long tradition of gun shows in this country, some 1,000 of them starting in the early part of this century, largely following World War II.
In the mid-eighties, the National Institutes of Justice sponsored a study of how convicted felons in 12 States obtained their guns. One of its findings was that gun shows were such a tiny source of crime guns that they were not even worth reporting
as a separate figure. That was in the eighties.
In 1997, the National Institutes of Justice report called "Homicide in 8 U.S. Cities" actually covered more than homicides, which put the number of crime guns from gun shows at or around 2 percent by that statistic.
In 2000, a BJS study of Federal firearms offenders, 1992 through 1998, found that 1.7 percent of Federal prison inmates obtained their guns from gun shows; in other words, a statistic that will show up, but a very minor one in reality of the total misuse of firearms in our country.
The most recent study done by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, November 2001, found that less than 1 percent of crimes committed involving the use of firearms utilized guns obtained at gun shows, including sales by fully licensed firearm dealers at gun shows; in other words, those who were doing background checks.
This was the largest study of its kind based on an investigation of 18,000 convicted felons. According to these reports, most criminals get guns from theft, burglary, black market, friends, or family.
The one inconsistent study is misleading. In January of 1999, the Justice and Treasury Departments published the result of a study on gun shows, Brady checks, and crime gun traces, concluding that nonlicensee firearm sales at gun shows contributed to trafficking in crime guns, the use of firearms in drug crimes and crimes of violence. The study, based upon an examination of 314 ATF criminal investigations, recommended additional legislation to deal with so-called loopholes. That is where the word began to appear in 1999.
However, the study does not show that occasional gun sales by one-time sellers at gun shows significantly contributed to illegal trafficking. They made the argument, but they did not make their case. The majority, 54 percent, of investigations involved unlicensed persons who were actually dealing in firearms without the required Federal dealer license, which is a felony and may be prosecuted under the law.
What they found out is that when it did happen, it was happening by those who were already trafficking in guns. The reason they found out is they were able to arrest them because they were already violators of the law. The Federal firearms laws were at work, and that is how we got the statistics because we used the laws to investigate and apprehend the bad guys.
Twenty-three percent of the investigations involved violations of existing law by Federal licensees; for example, illegal sales to straw purchasers, persons with clean backgrounds who acquired firearms for the actual purchasers. Even the Reed-McCain bill would not screen out a straw man. Somebody with a clean record could acquire a firearm for someone else, complete the sale, take it out, and hand it off. Does this great new loophole plugger solve it? Not at all. That hole cannot be plugged when somebody lies and they happen to have a clean background.
In 23 percent of the cases where they are now citing examples, folks simply lied. They did not tell the truth, and if one does not tell the truth and they have a clean background and the NICS system cannot pick it up, then that person is legitimate in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of a licensed firearm dealer.
The point is, in all of these crimes, under current law they were apprehended, and the vast majority of them are just that.
Now we hear a new argument: Terrorists and terrorism, and somehow the terrorists who are going to create havoc on the American public are going to go to a gun show, and he cited one buying an M-16-only that was not to do damage here, it was to do damage outside the country-and therefore we ought to put new restrictions on law-abiding citizens.
All I can say is, the great havoc that was wreaked on this country on 9/11 by terrorists was not by a gun purchased at a gun show. For the terrorists, the weapon of choice that did so much damage to our country happened to be a jet airliner and not an M-16 that was due to be exported.
Senator Reed speaks the truth because these terrorists we now find, who are apprehended and behind bars, were arrested because they were operating illegally under current law in many instances. If someone lied about their background, they cannot be found, but if they are illegal and undocumented in this country, it is a violation to go to a gun show and buy a gun. So one deals with an individual purchase and not a licensed dealer. That is so rare and so minuscule that if Senator Reed thinks that hole can be plugged by sticking one's finger in it, they are simply diverted to the street where they know they can acquire a gun, but the price is probably going to be a lot more.
All of that is the tragic environment in which we live, but what is important to say about the so-called "loophole" is, if one walks into a gun show and only in there a loophole exists, they can walk out of the gun show and it does not exist because they are not proposing to change current law where all commerce in firearms must be background checked.
Any individual citizen in this country can sell a firearm they own to his or her neighbor, and they do not have to do a background check-nor should they. But if they are legitimate, or if they are commercing or making their living in firearms, they are going to have to get a license and they are going to have to do a background check. That is the law, and that is the way it ought to be.
So, again, this is a political placebo for a problem that so rarely-I say rarely-exists, and it does rarely exist.
I listened very carefully to all of those he listed whom we found out to be violators of law. That is why he could list them, because they were already arrested under current Federal firearms laws, and that is why many of them are doing time.
So the answer to the problem is to stack a new law on top of law-abiding citizens at a thousand gun shows, and for the Federal Government to step into the business of regulating commerce in this area saying that in some way it might protect the average citizen.
Again, I point to the picture behind me. There is the average gun show in America. Nearly 4,000 people attend each one, and there are over 1,000 of them. Does the loophole exist? Well, when we look at the statistics from the report that bore the name of the loophole that they are now using, we find out those statistics just do not hold up; that what happened at a gun show can happen outside a gun show.
The reality is, one simply cannot make the holes in the sieve tight enough to stop everybody. Tighten it as we will, every time we do we step much harder on the private law-abiding citizen than we do the criminal or terrorist element in the world because they know they can play outside the law because the rest of us are required to play inside the law. That is the reality of any law, whether it be a gun law or anything else. We know that.
That is the history of law. That is the history of those who choose to play outside of it and break the law, and the gun show loophole will do nothing to change that. It will simply divert the commerce outside the building instead of inside the building, if someone chooses to operate illegally or outside the law.
I reserve the remainder of my time.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. CRAIG. Madam President, we know a great deal about gun shows. We know thousands of Americans go there each year-law-abiding citizens who are collectors, who are avid sportsmen, hunters, and target shooters. They go for information. They go to access collections of libraries of gun manuals. Many people who respect firearms and collect them like to have the manuals on how they were manufactured, and the ballistics of particular firearms. All of those are available at gun shows.
What is most important is to try to plug a loophole which I argue clearly does not exist today, or it exists outside of gun shows, because we are all operating under the same law whether you are inside the door of a gun show or outside the door of a gun show.
Senator Reed mentioned three terrorists and talked about how they had used a gun show. They were apprehended, they were prosecuted, and they were convicted under existing law. Did they break the law? Yes. That is how they were apprehended and convicted. It appears the law is working and working quite well at this moment. In fact, we are more aware today of terrorist activity and undocumented people in our country's activities than we ever were before, and it took a tragic event to cause that to happen.
I received the amendment about 3 hours ago, and I did not have a chance to look at it in detail as it relates to the original amendment introduced by Senator McCain and Senator Reed. I must say considerable change has been made. Of course, the Senator admitted that. But there is a great deal left in the bill which I think dramatically alters the nature of gun shows and the bureaucracy and the Federal involvement in the law-abiding commerce of firearms that we are not talking about.
The McCain-Reed 24-hour wait is in fact a smokescreen. The bill provides the wait may be reduced to 24 hours if a State applies for the privilege of improving its records after the fact, after it happened. In other words, if it happened and when it happened, then only may accommodate, but with no real incentive for States or the Federal Government to improve records even though we are pushing hard to make that happen. It is a complicated and expensive process. There is no reason to think the 24-hour check would ever be achieved. Even if a State did switch to 24 hours, the change is strictly optional and could be reserved for an anti-gun State government-well, you know in this instance you are going to get the irregular application of the McCain-Reed law if it were to become law.
With a 3 business-day period still allowed to check out-of-State records, a few large States could drag down the whole scheme for all transfers across the country. In other words, the Federal bureaucracy reigns supreme against a legitimate action of commerce that today is regulated only by Federal law as it relates to licensed dealers specific to their action and only those who make their living commercing in a law-abiding way in firearms.
The McCain-Reed amendment makes no instant check improvements, unlike S. 890, and the Senator referenced that. The bill provides no funding to criminal upgrades. Hopefully, we can get that accomplished in the near future. I am certainly in favor of that-the carrot and the stick-to make States comply so the NICS background check is legitimate, is effective, and certainly has within its recordkeeping the range of violations of law that makes an individual ineligible for acquiring a firearm.
McCain-Reed gives no priority to gun shows. Remember, we are talking about a weekend event. Yet if the system were active, there is no priority to move that check to the front of the list to make it happen in those areas where there might be a question-and there oftentimes are. It does not mean a person is a violator of the law or has within his or her background something, but there possibly is a triggering that needs further investigation.
Does this offer the priority? No, we know it does not. Sometimes law-abiding citizens travel hundreds of miles, if not thousands of miles, to some of these gun show events, some of the larger ones in the country, and to not be able to transact their commerce and leave with reasonable time involved just does not make a lot of sense. They can do it outside the door of the gun show; they cannot do it inside the door of the gun show. Today, how you act is legal based on your adherence to law. That transaction can occur inside or outside the door of the gun show.
Most importantly, McCain-Reed ignores the real problem. Multiple government studies have proven that gun shows are not the source of crime. But because there was once a crime report that mentioned the word "loophole," all the romance of that word, somehow out there they can catch the ear of the American public suggesting that here is a hole that all types of criminals and terrorists are getting through to gain access to firearms.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports in "Firearm Use By Offenders Found" that less than 1 percent of U.S. crime guns come from gun shows. The 2001 study was based on an interview of 18,000 prison inmates and is the largest such study ever conducted by the Government under legitimate polling and informational-gathering terms.
That is a pretty significant figure, 1 percent-a significant figure if you want to compare that to establishing a whole new bureaucracy and controlling over 1,000 legitimate gun shows on an annual basis.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics study is consistent with a previous study. The 2000 study, "Federal Firearm Offenders," as reported in 1992 and 1998, found that 1.7 percent of Federal prison inmates obtained their guns from a gun show.
Similarly, the National Institute of Justice, 1997 study, "Homicides In Eight United States Cities" reported less than 2 percent. All of the studies are hovering in that 1 to 1½ percent range on the average. Those are the realities of what we are dealing with.
We are today trying to drag down a very important law in this country or the very important effort to change law in this country to protect legitimate commerce and legitimate manufacturers and those who are licensed gun dealers by cluttering up, in my words, S. 1805 in a way that might drag it down.
The McCain-Reed bill, S. 1807, masquerades as reform, imposing bureaucratic restrictions aimed at shutting down gun shows without fixing real problems on the national instant background check.
The Senator deserves credit. We have worked together to try to make those improvements. I want a background check. I want no law-abiding citizen to be blocked from acquiring a gun or making it difficult to do. For those who have in their background those kinds of records that violate the law, we want to check them and keep them out of the business of owning a gun.
Despite changes from the Lautenberg juvenile justice amendment of 1999 that is based on the new compromise bill like its parent, S. 890 fails to address gun shows most significant concern and would create, again, massive liability for gun show promoters who would likely drive gun shows into extinction.
The rhetoric is one thing. No, we are not out to close gun shows. The practical application is another. Gun show promoters who play by all the rules, if you have substantially put them at risk by liability, they will step back. Again, you close another door for the legitimate citizen who would attempt to acquire a firearm in a logical way.
McCain-Reed creates massive bureaucratic redtape. That is reasonable to assume. Certainly the author of the amendment can say one thing, the ATF in its administration and the regulations that would be written would be quite another.
McCain-Reed turns what can oftentimes be a casual conversation into a gun show sale. Let me give an example. If you are a gun show active participant, you go, attend, you like to walk around and look at the displays; you see a firearm you like. But you decide not to buy it at that time. But you know a given dealer has it, or an individual in this case, because a dealer-you would obviously be protected by the Federal law and the need for a background check. This is an exhibitor, a collector, who is not required by law to adhere to that standard.
Some weeks later you have convinced your wife that maybe that is really the firearm you ought to own and you pick up the phone and call him because you took their business card and you buy the weapon. Is that a transaction of a gun show? I don't think it is clear in the McCain-Reed amendment. Is that person, by that telephone call, in violation of the law? He may not be, but if the person who owns the gun says, great, I will sell it to you, come over and pick it up, or I will arrive at a point in time where we can meet and exchange the necessary purchase to do so, are they in violation of the law? I don't know. This unenforceable system makes it arguable whether that is the kind of thing that would happen.
Those are some of the preliminary questions I have at first glance at this amendment that we saw several hours ago which is different from what has been originally produced over the years that certainly would have created substantial bureaucratic redtape. At the same time, there is a simple premise here that we ought not ignore. We are now setting gun shows apart as a separate and unique form of commerce for law-abiding citizens in the exercise of their second amendment rights. All that can go on inside the door of the gun show can go on outside the door of the gun show.
So if that is the basis of the argument that step one is to control the inside, I have to believe the desire is step two sometime down the road, to work aggressively to control the outside. That is why I and others who believe in our constitutional rights and our second amendment rights believe the current laws that are on the books are adequate to effectively police the legitimate and legal commerce of firearms in our country. That is why I hope Senators will vote this amendment down. We want to keep S. 1805 clean.
The President and the administrative policy statement urged us to keep this bill clean so it can become law this year instead of simply fall because the goal of those who are gun control advocates in the Senate would load it up in a way that it would be too heavy to move back through the Senate and back through the House or through a conference.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum if all time can be taken equally from both sides.