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President Barack Obama accused the "gun lobby and its allies" of lying about a bipartisan background check proposal that failed Wednesday in the Senate.
From the Rose Garden, he charged:
"They claimed that it would create some sort of ‘big brother’ gun registry, even though the bill did the opposite. This legislation, in fact, outlawed any registry. Plain and simple, right there in the text. But that didn't matter."
The background check amendment, sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., was a compromise intended to replace stricter language in Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013.
Did it, in fact, outlaw any gun registry?
‘A path to a national gun registry’
The government requires background checks for gun sales by licensed firearms dealers — but not for sales between folks who aren’t in the business of selling guns.
Manchin and Toomey’s amendment expanded the background check requirement to sales at gun shows and those advertised in publications and on the Web. But it didn’t go as far as the original bill, which required background checks for all gun transfers with limited exceptions.
That compromise wasn’t enough to attract the 60-vote supermajority required to pass the amendment. It failed on a 54 to 46 vote.
Opponents had, indeed, raised the specter of a national gun registry.
"If your private gun transaction is covered by Toomey-Schumer-Manchin (and virtually all will be) ... you can assume you will be part of a national gun registry," wrote Michael Hammond of lobbying group Gun Owners of America.
The existing background checks require filling out ATF Form 4473. That personal information is then run through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The government is supposed to destroy personally identifying information, but gun dealers are required to store the forms.
The government is then allowed to inspect them in the course of criminal investigations or to ensure gun dealers keep the records they’re supposed to keep.
So what did the Manchin-Toomey amendment say about a registry?
First, it made reference to federal law that already bans creation of a federal registry.
Since the mid 1980s, it’s been against federal law for information from background checks to be "recorded at or transferred to a facility owned, managed, or controlled by the United States or any State or any political subdivision thereof, nor that any system of registration of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or dispositions be established."
That’s why, if you’re cleared to purchase a gun, the FBI is required to destroy all identifying information about you before the next business day.
The Manchin-Toomey amendment doubled down on this ban, declaring: "Congress supports and reaffirms the existing prohibition on a national firearms registry."
It also declared that nothing in the legislation should be construed to "allow the establishment, directly or indirectly, of a federal firearms registry."
Later, it added these provisions:
• "The Attorney General shall be prohibited from seizing any records or other documents in the course of an inspection or examination authorized by this paragraph other than those records or documents constituting material evidence of a violation of law."
• "The Attorney General may not consolidate or centralize the records of the ... acquisition or disposition of firearms, or any portion thereof."
• "Any person who knowingly violates (the prohibition against consolidating or centralizing records) shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both.''
So, the amendment prohibited the centralizing of federal records — and added the threat of prison.
But those protections didn’t reassure gun rights proponents.
The National Rifle Association argues that gun control supporters believe expanding background checks is a precursor to gun confiscation. An Arizona gun group spokesman told us the federal government would illegally collect background check information submitted to the FBI. Sarah Palin, arguing against the Toomey-Manchin amendment, said it "creates a path to a national gun registry" since dealers store background check forms and the bill didn’t explicitly ban copying them, storing them in various locations (rather than centrally), or keeping a list of them.
She didn’t mention that existing federal law — referenced by the bill — already prohibits "any system of registration of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or dispositions."
Obama said opponents of compromise gun legislation "claimed that it would create some sort of ‘big brother’ gun registry, even though the bill did the opposite. This legislation, in fact, outlawed any registry. Plain and simple, right there in the text." The Manchin-Toomey amendment referenced a registry ban already in federal law, then expanded it, prohibiting seizure of records, forbidding the attorney general from consolidating or centralizing records, and providing for fines and imprisonment for anyone who did consolidate or centralize records. We rate Obama’s claim True.
White House, "Statement by the President," April 17, 2013
Washington Post, "Gun-control overhaul is defeated in Senate," April 17, 2013
Interview with Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel, American Civil Liberties Union, April 15, 2013
Statement from Garen Wintemute, director, Violence Prevention Research Program, University of California at Davis School of Medicine/U.C. Davis Medical Center, April 14, 2013
Email interview with Charles Heller, spokesperson, Arizona Citizens Defense League, host and producer, Liberty Watch Radio, April 12, 2013
Email interview with Clark Neily, senior attorney, Institute for Justice, April 12, 2013
Email interview with Robert Levy, chairman, Cato Institute, April 12, 2013
Email interview with John McCarthy, New York City Office of the Mayor, April 12, 2013
Cornell University Law School's Legal Information Institute, "18 USC Chapter 44 - FIREARMS," accessed April 18, 2013
Library of Congress' Thomas, "Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013," March 21, 2013
Sen. Pat Toomey, "Sen. Toomey Offers Full Text Of Public Safety And Second Amendment Rights Protection Act Online," April 11, 2013
Gun Owners of America, "Ten Really Important Problems with the Toomey-Schumer-Manchin Sell-out," April 11, 2013
NRA-ILA, "A universally bad idea," March 18, 2013
NRA-ILA, "Private Sales Restrictions and Gun Registration," Jan. 17, 2013
The Hill, "Palin vows to oppose any lawmaker that supports background checks bill," April 15, 2013
Sarah Palin, Facebook post, April 15, 2013
Sarah Palin, "Why the Obama-backed Schumer-Toomey-Manchin Gun Registry Bill Should be Filibustered and Defeated," accessed April 18, 2013
Federal Bureau of Investigation, "National Instant Criminal Background Check System: Fact Sheet," accessed April 12, 2013
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, "ATF Form 4473," accessed April 12, 2013
PolitiFact, "Michael Bloomberg: NRA used to support more background checks," March 26, 2013 (True)
PolitiFact, "Gun-rights group says Senate bill proposes ‘universal registration of all firearms and their owners,'" April 16, 2013 (False)
PolitiFact, "Gun-rights group says bill would criminalize leaving gun at home with someone else for more than a week," April 16, 2013 (Half True)
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