Floor Statements

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, as a strong defender of law-abiding Americans' second amendments rights, today I join my colleagues, Senators REED, DEWINE, LIEBERMAN, CHAFEE, and DODD to offer a bipartisan compromise amendment to address what has become known as the gun show loophole.

   Currently an individual can walk into a gun show and purchase a firearm from either a federally licensed dealer or an unlicensed dealer. A background check is only performed on that individual if he or she buys a gun from a licensed dealer. There is no requirement--I repeat, no requirement--for a background check of any kind when purchasing a firearm from an unlicensed dealer. This is a very dangerous loophole in the law and we are doing a disservice to the American people if we allow it to remain open.

   This amendment would close this dangerous loophole in our gun safety laws in a way that is respectful of the rights of gunshop operators, gun show vendors, and gun show enthusiasts. It defines gun shows in a reasonable manner to cover only public events where at least 75 firearms are offered for sale. It specifically exempts from regulation any private sale from the home, such as yard sales or estate sales. Additionally, it exempts sales between members of hunt clubs, an exception that I know is important to a number of our colleagues who represent hunting and sporting clubs that occasionally sell, trade, or raffle firearms between club members.

   The amendment would also create a new category of licensees who can become deputized to perform background checks for unlicensed sellers at gun shows. This licensee, who could even be a gun show employee, would enable any unlicensed vendor to conveniently have an instant background

   check performed when selling a firearm. In addition, this amendment would allow States to graduate to an even faster instant check once they have sufficiently automated the records necessary to ensure that a faster check does not sacrifice accuracy.

   Why do we need this amendment? Some might point to tragedies such as Columbine, but as horrific as the massacre at Columbine was, where 11 young people needlessly lost their lives, that is not what drives the need to close the gun show loophole. We need this amendment because criminals and terrorists have exploited and are exploiting this very obvious loophole in our gun safety laws. We need this amendment because our second amendment rights do not extend to criminals who violate our laws and terrorists who hate this country.

   We need this amendment because, according to the NRA, ``hundreds of thousands'' of unlicensed firearms sales occur at gun shows each year. We need this amendment because ATF has identified gun shows as the second leading source of firearms recovered from illegal gun trafficking investigations.

   We also need this amendment because my law-abiding constituents who attend gun shows in Arizona should not have to rub shoulders with the scum of the Earth who use this loophole to evade background checks to buy firearms to peddle to God knows who. We need this because every one of the 15 leading gun trafficking States in America has not taken action to close the gun show loophole. Conversely, 11 of the 15 States with the lowest level of interstate gun trafficking have taken action to close the gun show loophole.

   When discussing the topic of gun safety, I often hear my colleagues say things such as, let's enforce existing law before we make new ones. I completely agree and that is exactly what we are seeking to do today. We are seeking to strengthen existing laws by closing an enormous, dangerous loophole.

   I offer this amendment as one who counts himself as a strong supporter of the underlying legislation to protect the gun industry from frivolous lawsuits. I plan to vote for the underlying bill because it is fundamentally unfair to blame a firearms manufacturer when a criminal misuses a gun. But it is also unfair to the American people to knowingly leave open a gaping hole in our gun safety laws that criminals and terrorists can and do easily exploit.

   The last time the Senate considered similar legislation was in 1999, following the school shootings at Columbine High School. Two amendments were proposed to close the gun show loophole. One amendment received 51 votes with then-Vice President Gore casting his deciding vote. I opposed that amendment because, frankly, I thought it defined gun shows too broadly, covering certain private sales from the home, at yard sales, estate sales, and between members of private hunt clubs, places that obviously are not gun shows.

   The second amendment which I supported also passed the Senate. Unfortunately, opponents of that amendment said it weakened the Brady law for licensed dealers and created new loopholes.

   Today we offer a compromise proposal that is a reasonable, responsible consensus. I urge this body not to let this opportunity slip by.

   Opponents of today's amendment will make several arguments. I would like to take a few moments to address them head on. It is important to point out that this

   amendment is a modification of the legislation we introduced last fall. This amendment contains none of the vendor notification requirements contained in that bill. The vender notification requirements in this amendment are the same as those that passed the Senate in 1999. Let me state that again for clarity. This amendment does not contain the vendor notification provisions contained in S. 1807. They are gone.

   We still hear that criminals don't obtain guns from gun shows and we will hear about a survey of State and Federal inmates conducted by the Justice Department showing that about 3 percent of prisoners obtained their guns from gun shows. Let me make a couple of points.

   First, the survey was conducted in 1997. The gun show loophole didn't exist until December of 1993, so any criminal in prison for more than 3 years or any criminal who had a firearm for at least 3 years would not have had a reason to exploit this loophole.

   Second, let's be clear to quote ATF field agent Jeff Fulton: ``Crime guns do originate at gun shows. That's been documented.'' In fact, the ATF says gun shows are the second leading source of guns recovered in illegal trafficking investigations.

   Some opponents of this amendment will say that background checks take too long for weekend gun shows. That may have been the case in 1999, but today, thanks to the diligence of the Department of Justice, 91 percent of criminal background checks are completed within several minutes and over 95 percent of background checks are completed within 2 hours.

   For 19 out of 20 background checks, instant check has lived up to its name. For the 1 out of 20 checks that take more than 2 hours, these applicants are 20 times more likely to be unlawful than the rest of the applicants. Additionally, this amendment encourages States to improve their records, making them eligible for even faster background checks.

   I point out again that 91 percent of criminal background checks are completed within several minutes; 95 percent, within 2 hours.

   Opponents say the background check requirements would put gun shows out of business. That is not true. According to the Krause Gun/Knife Show Calendar, the definitive source of gun show information in the Nation, in 2003, the 17 States that have closed the gun show loophole have hosted, on average, more gun shows than the 33 States that have not closed the loophole.

   I repeat, the 17 States that have taken action to close the gun show loophole hosted, on average, 45 gun shows in 2003. The other 33 States, on average, 41 gun shows.

   I am a gun show supporter. Arizona is a big gun show State. This amendment will have zero effect on legitimate gun show businesses.

   This amendment has been endorsed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Major Cities Chiefs of Police, the Conference Of Mayors--the list goes on and on with those who have to deal with the results of guns obtained illegally.

   Let me say that the administration has said they want a ``clean bill.'' The administration has supported closing the gun show loophole but now they want a ``clean bill.'' Wink-wink, nod-nod. It is remarkable. It is remarkable. This loophole needs to be closed. The administration has had the position that it needs to be closed. We all know it needs to be closed.

   There were two State referendums in the 2002 election, in Colorado, not notoriously a liberal State, and Oregon, not notoriously a conservative State. Both of those ballot initiatives carried overwhelmingly when taken to the people instead of the incredible influence of the NRA over this process.

   I hope my friends will stand with the police chiefs and mayors and those who are required to enforce the law and vote for this amendment.

   I reserve the remainder of my time.