Behind Bloomberg’s Gun-Buyer Background-Check Ad Blitz

With hearings and floor action awaiting Congress when it returns from Easter recess, gun-control groups are being put to the test

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Kevin Lamarque / REUTERS

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks to reporters after his meeting with Vice President Joe Biden at the White House on Feb. 27, 2013

Rich people do crazy things with their money, but no one’s ever accused billionaire New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg of being the kind to throw money away on a lost cause. So some observers are confused by his $12 million ad buy during Congress’s Easter recess. Bloomberg’s ads push for the expansion of legally required background checks to include private sales, a move that close to 90% of Americans support, including 74% of NRA members, according to Republican pollster Frank Luntz.

Bloomberg’s not the only one pushing the issue this week. Backed by the mothers of victims of gun violence, an impassioned President Obama held an event at the White House on Thursday morning touting his multifaceted gun-control package and singling out the background-check issue in particular. “Ninety percent of Americans — 90% — support background checks,” Obama said. “How often do 90% of Americans agree on anything?” Groups allied with Bloomberg, like Gabby Giffords’ Americans for Responsible Solutions, are also launching a background-check blitz.

(MORE: Universal Background Checks Shine Spotlight on Gun Stores)

So why make a big push to influence public opinion when public opinion’s already on your side?

The answer lies in the stalled negotiations between Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer and Republican Senator Tom Coburn over gun legislation in Congress. How that standoff is resolved will determine whether the latest gun-control effort, launched in the wake of December’s killing of 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown, Conn., goes anywhere.

Federal law already requires commercial gun sellers to run a background check on a gun buyer before the sale of a weapon, and to keep a paper record of the sale. But sellers at gun shows and in private sales don’t have to do either. While increased background checks are popular, Coburn and the NRA say there is less support for expanding paper records, which gun-rights advocates warn could be used to create a national database of gun ownership that might allow the government to confiscate firearms. Gun-control groups, and Schumer, say any bill without the paper records would be meaningless.

(MORE: How Gun Control Ends: Not With a Bang, But With a Whimper)

The paper-record issue constitutes the last unresolved detail preventing broad Republican support for expanded background checks. Schumer had already agreed to a raft of other compromises, including:

  • Exempting holders of concealed-carry permits from background checks
  • Exempting intrafamily sales from the checks
  • Establishing an online portal for checks so that rural sellers don’t need to travel to comply with the law
  • Allowing vets diagnosed with mental illness to seek a reassessment of their case
  • Flexibility in who would retain the paper records (the private seller, a local licensed seller or even the gun manufacturer)

“We got nine-tenths of the way with Coburn,” says one senior Democratic Senate staffer. But the Oklahoma Republican argued that conservatives simply wouldn’t support a bill that expanded record keeping, even one that merely extended the existing system for commercial sales to private sales. Schumer said gun-control groups felt strongly that expanded background checks without record keeping would be meaningless. The two sides amicably agreed to test the support for those positions on both sides.

(VIDEO: Bloomberg Picks Gun Control as Key to Illinois Special Election)

Which gets us back to the ad blitz. The break in negotiations “gives an opportunity for some of the groups that have been trying to work this, including [Bloomberg’s] group and Gabby Giffords’ group, to test their abilities to put pressure on lawmakers and to organize,” says the Democratic staffer. “This will be a little bit of a test of these groups’ muscle,” says the staffer.

It also explains why Obama spent so much time Thursday passionately urging everyday Americans to make their voices heard. “Speak up, we need your voices in this debate,” Obama said. If your representative is not one of the 90% supporting background checks, Obama said, “then you should ask them, ‘Why not? Why are you part of the 10%?'”

There are three possible outcomes to the test of wills. Bloomberg and his allies could successfully pressure Republicans to back down on paper records, likely giving Obama a win on two of the four measures he sought in the wake of Newtown (a bill increasing the penalties for gun trafficking is likely to pass, while an assault-weapons ban and an expensive bill boosting school-safety programs are expected to fail). Alternatively, if the Bloomberg effort fails to pressure conservatives to accept paper records for private sales, gun-control advocates will have to decide whether to accept expanded background checks without paper records or scrap them entirely.

The last outcome would be a failure all around, given the broad support for universal background checks, and the evidence that they could do something to diminish gun deaths. Bloomberg’s group has compiled records claiming that last year 6.6 million guns were sold privately without background checks. And a Bloomberg News article says that “a 2004 Bureau of Justice Statistics survey of inmates convicted of gun crimes found that 80 percent acquired the weapons through a private transfer.”

VIDEO: Illinois Representative Compares Gun Control to Castration

41 comments
MichaelSilver
MichaelSilver

It is interesting that Bloomberg goes around with a security detail armed to the teeth with submachine guns but he so desperately wants to take guns away from everyone else?  Its the elitist I know better than you how you should lead your life.  Thank god his political career is over.  No other jurisdiction will ever vote for him.

I.J.
I.J.

Schumers bill requires any use of a gun by a family member, including a spouse, to first undergo filed  transfer of ownership.

The result of this bill will be for all two person married households with one gun to buy and keep two to avoid possible federal criminal charges. It will require a household of two parents and two adult children who maybe perfectly a happy with one gun to buy and keep four.

This is already a documented issue in three US jurisdictions where you must have a license to posses a gun, or even handle it inside the home, and that license applies to that gun specifically. Schumer will apply that  federally.

The "exemption" for family transfer in Schumer bill requires a filed transfer. You don't need to go though a background check and FFL but you must legally file a change of ownership. If a gun is used for hunting, proactive on private property, or even if you give access to you wife while you are away you are committing a federal crime.

If you had one gun in a two person house you will need two under Schumer. If you have an ar-15 for hunting and a handgun form home defense a married couple wit two adult children that had two guns now needs eight to avoid legal complications. I fyou sket on your own property yuo need four shotguns now too.

Like most gun control these laws will do nothing other than sell more guns

Cleetus
Cleetus

Part 3. 

After seeing how public officials are lying to us about the 40% "statistic" and seeing how the government is not enforcing existing laws, but still wants more of them, one has to ask the question of "Why?". Is the government and those officials asking for new laws ignorant of what is really going on or could there be some hidden agenda? I do not know the answer, but, perhaps, it is time for someone to start asking. 

(I hate limited commenting space.)

Cleetus
Cleetus

Part 2. 

The second issue that bothers me is enforcement of the law. It is a crime to lie on the background check questionaire. For the last year for which they have data, the DOJ states that over 15,000 convicted criminals attempted to purchase a gun by lying on the background check form. Out of all these cases, only 44 were prosecuted. This brings us to two points. The first is that the system would seem to work. If over 15,000 checks were caught in lying, then something is working. What is not know, however, is how many convicted criminals did lie and get away with it. Attempting to argue that there were many more or hardly any more is foolish since no data of any sort exists to support either argument. The only number available is the 15,000 number that was caught and denied a weapon sale. The second point is simply that the law is not being enforced. If the government is only going to enforce the law 44 times out of 15,000, then what will additional laws buy us? Is it not better to start enforcing the laws on the books and see how the system operates before we start demanding new laws?

Cleetus
Cleetus

Part 1.  There are a couple of things that have been bothering me about this whole background check issue.  The first is that Mr. Obama and others keep throwing out the number of 40% claiming that to be the percentage of people who can buy a gun without a background check.  This is plain untrue.  This 40% number came from a small survey from over 20 years ago  - before there was a federal requirement for a background check to purchase a gun.  Due to the federal law now, every gun dealer, whether it is in his store or if he is at a gun show, must process a background check before he can sell a gun.  The only guns that are transfered between individuals without a background check occurs when one family member gives a gun to another family member or when a private citizen sells to another private citizen whether it is via a classified as, at a gun show, in a parking lot, etc.  The real number of people obtaining a gun legally without having a background check performed in today's world is estimated to be 3-4%.

Evo1
Evo1

This is just BS. The record keeping requirements aren't the problem, it's the fact that the information also has to go on a form 4473, which includes virtually every piece of personally identifying information you can imagine, and is accessible to the government without a warrant. They must be retained by a licensed dealer (no compromise there - you get to keep the bill of sale, but the dealer still keeps the 4473, which is MUCH worse) and upon retirement they must be turned over to the ATF for permanent government archiving - in other words, it creates an automatic national gun registry. Last month the Republicans (with the backing of the NRA) agreed to pass universal background checks if the provisions creating a registry, and it was the Democrats who refused to compromise. We could already have universal background checks signed into law, but the Democrats will not stop trying to use the legislation to sneak far more egregious anti-gun measures.

JamesLightfoot
JamesLightfoot

I have a big problem with using medical records in background checks. There is a huge difference between people who see a doctor or take meds for depression or stress or anxiety and people adjudicated to be mentally incompetent by a court of law. The government has no business accessing people's private medical records. The 4th amendment says you can't just go poking around in people's private information without a search warrant issued upon probable cause. This law will prevent people from seeking help for mental health issues because they will be treated as less of a citizen with fewer rights than those who do not seek treatment.

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

THIS IS A BAD JEW MAYOR ....BLOOMBERG......IMPOSING HIS WILL ON THE PEOPLE LIKE A DICTATOR.....WHAT IS HIS PROBLEM......THE PEOPLE SHOULD THROW THIS MAN OUT NEXST ELECTION.....

UNLESS THE PROPLE FIGHT BACK.....THEY WILL AND A RE SLAVES.

VALENTINE....COMEDIAN

vstillwell
vstillwell

The background check issue is a reflection on how corrupt and broken our electoral system has become. 

spock
spock

This is inaccurate and spreading false info.

"Federal law already requires commercial gun sellers to run a background check on a gun buyer before the sale of a weapon, and to keep a paper record of the sale. But sellers at gun shows and in private sales don’t have to do either"

 This is not true. All gun buyers at a gun show have to have the same backround check done.  Private sales are the only sales not required to do backround checks but it is illegal to sell a gun to a known criminal.

ChadPortenga
ChadPortenga

It also explains why Obama spent so much time Thursday passionately urging everyday Americans to make their voices heard. “Speak up, we need your voices in this debate,” Obama said. If your representative is not one of the 90 percent who support background checks, Obama said, “Then you should ask them, ‘Why not? Why are you part of the ten percent?’”

It isn't the background checks that are the problem. It's all the other BS they're trying to add to it.  This is always the case, on both sides of the aisle, when attempting to pass or defeat bills.  If you add enough pork to it, you can make everyone look like the bad guy.  (Budget, Social Security, Health Care Reform, etc. - everyone of these is a victim of pork).

There's no reason that I should have to maintain records of who I, as a private seller, have sold a gun to.  I've got enough to maintain with 7 years of tax records, mortgage info, child care records, 401k & IRA plans,  health & life insurance coverages, and on and on.  This is just another way to make it unreasonable for the everyday citizen to comply so that ultimately they will just buckle and give up.  Gun shops and gun show dealers - Yes.  They can maintain records. But clean up the bill and get the pork out and I'll bet you'd see the support in congress grow.

bobell
bobell

Good for Bloomberg. But of course none of this should be necessary. But of course everyone already knows that.

But we can't let fatigue set in. This time we have to outlast the NRA.  This time we can. Will we?

Let's all email Tom Coburn. You don't need me to tell you what to say.

Now playing: Bach Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, Buch 2. Glorious! (I enjoy many obscure composers.  I worship Bach.)

La_Randy
La_Randy

@Evo1 And you are afraid of the government knowing you have a gun. Why?

The government has "virtually every piece of personally identifying information" already. They issued it to you, they tax you due to it and identify you with it. 

Why is this a problem?

La_Randy
La_Randy

@JamesLightfoot HIPPA laws will negate this line of inquiry in background checks and the NRA knows it. Doctor, patient privilege and all that.

Not a bad move for them if being disingenuous to obtain a desired goal of weapons and ammo sales for their gun industry backers.


vstillwell
vstillwell

@spock So how would the "private" seller know if the person buying a gun is a criminal w/o a background check?

bobell
bobell

@spock You may live in a jurisdiction that requires background checks at gun shows. There are some states that have such a requirement. But there is no federal requirement.  Why would the NRA be lobbying Congress not to enact such a requirement if it already existed? (They might be lobbying for repeal in that case, but that's not what they're doing.)

BenevolentLawyer
BenevolentLawyer

@ChadPortenga 

I am very unclear about the aversion to keeping records of gun purchases!!! What is the big deal. Here in my state, I live in the South, we own a lot of guns. I sometimes wonder what would happen if a gun owner who was sane at the time of purchasing his cache of weapons, goes off the hinges, takes people hostage in his home and engages the police in a shoot out. What would happen if the police or other law enforcement had no way of knowing how many weapons such an individual possess. I know people who have enough weapons and ammo to engage law enforcement for weeks. Yes! It is not uncommon here to own lots and lots of guns.

I can tell you with absolute certainty that many gun owners in my state are armed to the hilt and ARE small armies in their individual families. I a gun owner and see NO rationale for the PARANOID contention that keeping records of gun and ammunition sales are somehow an infringement on gun rights/ownership.

Under the law, every right has a duty, and that duty must have checks ad balances. The gun ownership hysteria appears to posit that gun ownership is some right that should have absolutely no check and balance. Legally, without the extreme emotion, any right thinking person can see that such argument is bogus. The trade of weapons and ammo should entail copious record keeping. It is just logical.  



bobell
bobell

@ChadPortenga "There's no reason that I should have to maintain records of who I, as a private seller, have sold a gun to."

You really think so?  If you have no records, how can anyone ever know whether you complied with the law or not?  Okay, you're honest. Is everyone who ever sells a gun honest?  Why do you think we have record-keeping requirements? What do you think Ronald Reagan meant when he said "Trust but verify"?  Or look at it this way: If you're honest and perform the required checks and keep the required records, you won't get in any trouble.  Otherwise you and everyone else who ever sells a firearm is open to suspicion if something goes wrong.

Also, pork may be a problem, but it has nothing to do with keeping records of firearms sales and background checks.

FrankMustane
FrankMustane

@La_Randy @Evo1 New York State has already let the cat out of the bag. They said confiscation was an option. The only trouble with that plan is that they do not know who owns any of these so called 'assault weapons'. So this time around (with the NY SAFE Act), they now require registration. You cannot confiscate something unless you know about it and that is the point of registration.

spock
spock

Well, if you know they have been to jail that would be a good indicater. You wouldn't know if a stranger is a criminal but would you really want to sell a gun to a criminal unless you were a gang member selling stolen guns. Most  non criminals sell guns to friends and family members.

Evo1
Evo1

@bobell actually, there is a federal law, the same one that requires checks at gun shops. The vast majority of sellers at gun shows are licensed dealers, so the same federal law still applies to them even at gun shows. It is only private sales (which the DOJ says is not a major source of crime guns) that do not require a background check under federal law.

spock
spock

It is a federal law http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/nics and has been since 1998 and applies to all gun sales by licenced dealers. Licensed dealers are the only ones alowed to sell in gun shows.

That is the mis information the media is feeding you.

avi8tor
avi8tor

Maybe you should re-evalutate your contention.  Americans will maintain their second amendment rights.  And I live in the most liberal state in the union.....California.  No records keeping will keep you liberals safe.  I can gurantee that.

curt3rd
curt3rd

We have other laws which dont require record keeping like the sale of alcohol. Is everyone that sell alcohol open to suspicion?

Evo1
Evo1

Sorry, scratch the last. I misread your post.

Evo1
Evo1

@spock that's not true. A private seller may (under federal law) sell a gun to a private party at a gun show with no check of any kind. Neither the gun nor the buyer need go,through any check. Some states do require checks in these instances, but the Feds do not, and most states don't either. But then this isn't a significant source of crime guns anyway, so expanding background checks to these sales won't do anything to reduce gun violence.

spock
spock

Of course anyone can sell to a licensed dealer but they cant re sell the gun until it has been run through the system to make sure it hasn't been used in any crimes and then they must conduct a backround check an anyone buying it. The process takes about 21 days.

As far as selling a gun at a gun show, all licensed dealers must  conduct backround checks with all gun sales. What this whole "gunshow loophole" is refering to is private sales in the parking lot of gunshows, which are no different from a private sale in a church parking lot or someones living room.

bobell
bobell

@spock I agree that dealers must run background checks no matter where they're doing business, gun shows included. But you are wrong that only licensed dealers can sell at gun shows.  In fact, until 1968 they were prohibited from doing business at gun shows.  And there's nothing in federal law today limiting selling at gun show to licensed dealers. Here's a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_shows_in_the_United_States

I tried to find a clear factual statement about this on the NRA website, but most of it wouldn't load (no pun intended), and what I found was silent on the point,  Maybe you should check it for yourself. I doubt you'll find anything that contradicts me.

1776jhancock
1776jhancock

*10829 people are exactly as dead. Really took the steam out of that with the typo....

curt3rd
curt3rd

A background check would not have saved those people.  Im for a background check but lets try and solve the real problem instead of having a knee jerk reaction to it.

La_Randy
La_Randy

@curt3rd Ever heard of a bottle of vodka mowing down 20 first graders and 6 teachers at a school?

curt3rd
curt3rd

Also alcohol kills more people then guns do each year

curt3rd
curt3rd

Its called drunk driving.  Also I was just pointing out that we dont know if they complied with the law.

bobell
bobell

@curt3rd I've never heard of anyone killing a dozen people with a bottle of vodka.  Have you?