By Gene Voegtlin, Director, SACOP, IACP
n early April, the Senate considered S. 649, the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013. The legislation, authored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and supported by the IACP, was a combination of various firearms enforcement and school safety provisions that had been introduced separately. The main elements of the legislation included the following provisions:
- Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act
- Fix Gun Checks Act
- School and Campus Safety Enhancements Act of 2013
Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act
The Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act, introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), would create a new federal crime for “straw purchasing” of firearms. Under the provisions of this act, a straw purchaser who buys a firearm is criminally liable if he or she knows or has reasonable cause to believe that the person for whom he or she is buying firearms falls under one of several criteria. (These criteria include the federal prohibiting disqualification gun purchases). The maximum sentence for this offense would be 20 years imprisonment or 30 years imprisonment if the defendant knew or had reasonable cause to believe that any firearm involved would be used to commit a crime of violence.
Fix Gun Checks Act
S. 649 originally contained the provisions of the Fix Gun Checks Act, introduced by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). The provisions of the Fix Gun Checks Act call for the requirement of background checks to be performed for almost all firearms transfers (specific exemptions for very limited situations, such as transfers between immediate family members were identified).
However, before the Senate began consideration of S. 649, it became clear that Fix Gun Checks Act provisions were controversial and that they would not pass in the original form. As a result, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) developed a compromise proposal that, while not providing for universal background checks, significantly expands the coverage of the existing background check system.
Under the Manchin-Toomey proposal, in addition to the transfers that are currently subject to background checks (commercial sales) the following weapon transfers would also be required to undergo a background check:
- All gun show sales (either at the gun show or on the curtilage)
- All sales made pursuant to commercial advertisement, posting or display or other listing on the Internet or a publication (either intent to sell or intent to buy)
- Transfers between unrelated individuals in the same state – unless the Attorney General certifies that the state already requires a background check for such sales that is equivalent to the federal system.
Under the Manchin-Toomey compromise transfers between spouses, parents or spouses of parents, siblings, children or spouses of children, grandparents or spouses of grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and first cousins would not be subjected to a background check so long as the transferor has no reason to believe the transferee is a prohibited purchaser.
After reviewing the proposal, the IACP, along with the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, announced its support for the Manchin-Toomey Proposal and the other provisions of S.649.
The Manchin-Toomey agreement was offered as an amendment to S. 649. The Senate voted in favor of the amendment 54-46. However, under the rules of the Senate the amendment needed a 60 vote supermajority in order to pass. As a result, the amendment did not move forward.
Similarly, an IACP-opposed amendment that provides for nationwide reciprocity for concealed carry permit holders (a permit from one state would be valid in all states) failed to advance despite the Senate voting 57-43 in favor of the amendment.
Finally, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), was also offered as an amendment to S.649. The Senate voted down the amendment 60-40.
After the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey amendment and several other amendments, Senate Majority Leader Reid withdrew the underlying bill (S.649) from consideration. This allows Senators the opportunity to continue negotiations on the legislation and, potentially, to bring the legislation back up for consideration later in the session. ♦
Please cite as:
Gene Voegtlin, "Firearms Legislation Withdrawn in Senate," Legislative Alert, The Police Chief 80 (May 2013): 8.