Many Oklahomans and gun owners across the country have asked why I have decided to participate in negotiations, and then vote to move to a debate, they view as designed to limit their rights. I understand my role in this debate appears surprising in light of my long record of not only defending but expanding Second Amendment rights by, for example, giving Americans the right to carry guns in national parks. I have also filibustered popular bills in order to defend the rights of veterans who have been stripped of their Second Amendment rights without due process because they were wrongly declared mentally unfit.
First, let me be clear about what the Senate will and will not be considering in the coming days. The most onerous and blatantly unconstitutional provisions the gun control lobby favors – a ban on supposed “assault weapons” (any gun in the hands of a criminal is an assault weapon) and a plan to limit magazine sizes, policies I vehemently oppose – have zero chance of passing. What is up for consideration is how to improve a broken system that literally allows illegal aliens, drug traffickers, child molesters, rapists, felons, members of al Qaeda cells and mentally-deranged persons to buy firearms. If you believe the Second Amendment gives those people the right to arm themselves then we have an irreconcilable difference of opinion. If you believe the Constitution allows for laws that prevent those people from buying guns then keep reading.
Let me also say plainly that my job as a United States Senator isn’t to get reelected or to do what is popular. Instead, my job is to do what is right and follow my oath to defend and protect the Constitution to the best of my ability. Some have even suggested a more pro-Second Amendment Republican should run against me in the primary next election. I hate to disappoint them but I respect the will of the people so much I have primaried myself by term-limiting myself. I announced my decision to limit my Senate service to two terms when I ran in 2004 and will leave the Senate in 2016.
In my view, not participating in this debate would do more to jeopardize Americans’ Second Amendment rights than participating. The fact is there are gaps in the law that make it far too easy for dangerous people to access firearms. Every act of gun violence not only takes away the rights – and sometimes lives – of victims but also chips away at the rights of law abiding citizens. Responsible gun owners should be leading the effort to make sure firearms are used for the purpose our founders’ intended – self-defense and freedom, not mayhem and murder.
That is precisely why I have spent weeks working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to develop an easy way to transfer firearms that protects Americans’ Second Amendment rights while giving them the tools they need to make sure they aren’t selling a gun to someone who will be a threat to themselves or others.
The gun control lobby calls this goal “universal background checks” which is an inaccurate and inappropriate term. Let me clear about what I am proposing: When a person wants to buy a gun they are not, and should not be, subjected to an investigation or have their background inspected by the federal government. What is Constitutional in my view (and current law) is to determine whether that person is on a list of dangerous or prohibited persons. This list is called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System or (NICS) list.
In practice, the NICS system is more like the check every American goes through when they buy a plane ticket. If you are not on the “do not fly list” you are not subjected to a special investigation. The NICS system is essentially a “do not buy list” that is supposed to stop dangerous people from buying guns. The vast majority of gun owners aren’t opposed to a “do not buy list.” Just as Americans do not want to board a plane with someone on the “do not fly list” they do not want to sell a gun to, or be in a public place with, someone on the “do not buy list.”
The problem is the NICS system isn’t very useful because it’s very easy for dangerous people to evade. The central question the Senate will debate in the coming days is how to improve that system.
Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) have proposed a solution that is unworkable and unfair to gun owners. Their proposal would expand the broken NICS system and facilitate a government takeover of gun shows and commercial sales. If their proposal becomes law, visitors to Wanenmacher’s gun show in Tulsa and gun shows across America will face a new tax of $30 to $50, and sometimes more, as they exercise their constitutional right to buy a gun. Or, if you see an ad for a gun online, you will be declared a felon if you do anything but drive to a gun store and perform the transaction in the presence of someone with a Federal Firearms License (FFL). Both gun shows and FFLs will also be required to keep a record of those sales. Gun owners will reject and ignore these changes.
The proposal I will offer, on the other hand, would create a consumer portal that would allow someone to go online for free and print out a pass that proves they are not on the NICS list. Law abiding citizens won’t be treated as guilty until proven innocent and they won’t face a new tax as they exercise their constitutional rights. Citizens also won’t be required to keep records under my proposal. Finally, my bill will allow people who already have a concealed carry permit to buy a gun without taking additional steps, and it will give states the right to come up with their own ways to declare that someone isn’t on the NICS list.
The story the media has not reported, and citizens in Oklahoma and elsewhere have not heard, is that in the negotiations about how to improve access to the NICS list, it has been my office versus the gun control lobby. Second Amendment groups, unfortunately, have chosen to sit on the sidelines and pretend we can’t fix a system that allows illegal aliens to buy guns.
As the Senate debates these measures every American has a responsibility to do their homework and understand what is and is not under consideration. My office is prepared to answer as many questions as possible as clearly and quickly as we can. This is a debate defenders of the Second Amendment can’t afford to ignore.
Dear Colleague Letter