Senator Schumer Holds Hearing on Registration and Rights Denial Bill

Posted on February 1, 2012

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On Nov. 16, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism held a hearing on Sen. Charles Schumer’s, D-N.Y., s.436, dubbed by anti-gunners as the “Fix Gun Checks Act.” But rather than “fix” the current National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the legislation would eliminate private sales and gun shows as we know them, and expand the range of persons prohibited from owning firearms.

For much of the hearing, Sen. Schumer and his witnesses, including a top advisor to New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, pretended that the bill would simply ensure that state and federal agencies would provide more accurate information to the NICS database. 

Cutting through this fog was Second Amendment scholar professor David Kopel of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. 

Kopel first pointed out that the bill would not only eliminate private sales and much of the lawful activity at gun shows, but could also extend the background check requirement to situations such as letting a friend use a firearm at a range, sharing a firearm for self-defense or conducting a safety class in which students handle a firearm. 

Worse yet, a requirement for background checks for all firearm transfers would result in a system of gun registration as the federal government would have access to information on all firearm sales. 

Kopel also testified that the bill would deprive gun owners of their rights without due process of law. For example, the bill would require that firearm purchasers be denied for “an arrest for the use or possession of a controlled substance within the past 5 years”—so a person who was arrested erroneously, or arrested and then found not guilty by a jury, would still be barred from possessing a firearm. 

Kopel pointed out a provision of the bill that would ban gun possession by a person who has been ordered by a “lawful authority” to receive mental health counseling. This could include a person whose employer or school administrator orders him to receive counseling as a condition of further employment or enrollment, regardless of the outcome of the counseling. An example, Kopel explained, could be a police officer ordered to receive counseling after using a firearm in the line of duty. 

This led to a spirited exchange with Sen. Schumer as to the contents of his own bill. After several denials by Sen. Schumer that the bill would impose such severe restrictions, Kopel had to point out to the senator the exact page and line number where the provision could be found. 

Also at the hearing, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., questioned David Cuthbertson of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division on the completeness of felony conviction records being provided for use by NICS. The exchange revealed that only 50 percent of arrest dispositions end up in the federal database. Sen. Sessions suggested it should be a higher priority to make accurate data on convicted felons available, explaining that gun laws on the books should be effectively enforced before the Congress contemplates additional restrictions on a constitutional right.

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