By Paul Helmke
Who could possibly be opposed to closing the “gun show loophole”?
What individual or group would try to stand in the way of legislation that would make it harder for convicted felons and other dangerous persons to obtain all sorts of dangerous weapons?
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Whose interest does it serve to allow “private sellers” at gun shows to sell AK-47s, TEC-9’s, Mac-10s and other types of high-powered and semi-automatic guns to buyers, without requiring them to undergo a Brady background check?
These were the kinds of questions that House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), asked over and over at a Congressional forum on “The Gun Show Loophole Closing Act” in Chicago on August 19. Make no mistake. The NRA bosses and their allies oppose closing the “gun show loophole.” They have complained on their blogs and in press releases about it, while ignoring the testimony of law enforcement officials who report that huge caches of guns are bought by, or supplied to, criminals from gun shows.
The bill to close the “gun show loophole,” introduced by Representatives Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and Michael Castle (R-DE), has more than 100 cosponsors, including U.S. Senate Candidate Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL).
Last week’s forum was chaired by Bobby Scott (D-VA), Subcommittee Chairman on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, and attended by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL.), and Rep. Conyers.
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Fellow Judiciary Committee Member Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), convened the forum, which — like the one held in Washington, D.C. July 14 — was an opportunity for the public and congressional representatives to learn more about this huge threat to the safety of our families and communities.
Weeks before the Chicago forum, opponents to this commonsense legislation were contacted by House staff and invited to testify. Opponents had protested about not being invited to weigh in at the D.C. hearing. And yet, when extended the opportunity in Chicago, they and their protests suddenly evaporated. As Rep. Conyers pleaded for opponents of the legislation to speak up, a representative of the Illinois Rifle Association stood up. Rep. Conyers insisted he come forward and make his case. He declined to speak publicly, saying only that he would prefer to talk to the congressman in private.
I’m not surprised. After the testimonies of gun violence victims such as Colin Goddard, who was shot four times at Virginia Tech, and Annette Nance-Holt, whose 16-year-old son, Blair, was killed in Chicago while shielding a friend from gunfire, members of the Chicago and Illinois police departments, and Thomas Mannard of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, the IRA rep must have realized that the flagrant flaws in his logic would have been exposed.
It’s not easy to speak after hearing Colin Goddard talk about why he was there: “I learned that while I’m associated with the worst mass-shooting in U.S. history — 32 dead — there are, on average, another 32 people killed by gun violence every day in America. And last year, out of the 258 public school students who were shot in Chicago, 32 were killed. But more importantly, I’ve understood the hard way how even just one homicide, one dead family member, can change the life of that family forever. And this is why I do what I do: to give a voice to those who’ve already been silenced and to those family members who are still too overwhelmed to speak out.”
Congressman Quigley is to be commended for pursuing this forum. Although Illinois has effectively already taken sensible steps to close the “gun show loophole” problem, Rep. Quigley understands that residents of his state are affected by weak laws in neighboring states and that communities across our nation would be even better off if we made it harder on a federal level for dangerous people to stockpile guns.
Chicago has seen some of worst gun violence of any city in America in recent years. This July, according to a report from the Chicago Tribune, more than 300 people were shot, 33 of them killed. The easy access to guns by dangerous people continues to exist because of our nation’s weak gun laws and the weak guns laws of so many states. The anemic laws in neighboring jurisdictions make it hard for cities to see the kind of progress that they could be seeing. And these anemic laws make it hard for residents of those communities to experience the kind of safety that they deserve a right to.
Help us prevent more gun violence. Click here to find out how you can help us close the “gun show loophole,” and answer the closed-door arguments of those who would oppose it.