FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. _ U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants a federal law that would require background checks for ammunition buyers.
“I really think it’s important to underscore that without bullets a gun is just a hunk of useless metal, and a would-be killer lacks the means to actually kill or maim,” Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said Monday.
It’s already illegal for convicted felons, domestic abusers and dangerously mentally ill people to buy firearms and ammunition. Background checks are already required for some firearms purchasers, but nothing prevents anyone from buying ammunition, without having to provide as much as a first name to the seller.
The current system allows someone to “buy as much ammunition as they want, without so much as being asked their first name, and walk out,” Wasserman Schultz said, a situation she described as “such a gaping and grave and dangerous loophole that I could not wrap my mind around it.”
The legislation is sure to provoke opposition from many gun owners. Wasserman Schultz dismissed the argument that what she called “common-sense gun safety laws” would infringe upon Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms.
“You do not have the right to bear bullets,” Wasserman Schultz said at a news conference at the Pembroke Pines Police Department, where she was joined by political leaders, a police representative, and teachers and students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Mei-Ling Ho-Shing, a Stoneman Douglas junior, praised the proposal. “If we can attack the bullets, we can stop how many people who can get shot with high-capacity magazines,” she said.
Wasserman Schultz said she supports broad efforts to address gun violence but said the background check would combat the illegal purchase of ammunition. By itself, the proposal wouldn’t have prevented high-profile shootings: the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, in which 17 people were killed and 17 wounded; the Oct. 1 shooting that killed 58 in Las Vegas; or the Jan. 6, 2017, shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in which five people were killed and six wounded.
But, she said, it would prevent many killings by people who aren’t legally allowed to buy ammunition but currently are able to purchase it anyway.
In connection with other proposals to combat gun violence _ such as banning assault weapons and making it harder for mentally ill people to get firearms _ she said it would have a positive effect.
“Closing this absurd loophole would not by itself end senseless mass shootings or the daily gun carnage that too many neighborhoods see every day, but this approach … has to be part of any larger strategy for ending gun violence,” she said. “Put together, woven together, it will provide the safety net that is essential to reduce gun violence. That’s our goal.”
Wasserman Schultz said her proposal wouldn’t be onerous for most gun owners. It would use the existing background check system for gun buyers _ which many critics believe needs to be expanded to cover all firearms purchases _ to cover ammunition purchases. In 2016, Wasserman Schultz said, 89 percent of all background check inquiries went through “within minutes.”
The legislation also wouldn’t require background checks for people who buy ammunition at shooting ranges or hunting camps and intend to use it at those locations.
California is requiring background checks for ammunition buyers beginning July 1, 2019 _ something that’s being challenged by the National Rifle Association, which has filed multiple lawsuits against the state’s laws regulating ammunition and firearms that it labels “gunmaggedon.”
New York also will soon require background checks for ammunition sales, Wasserman Schultz’s staff said. Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts and New Jersey require background checks to obtain licenses to buy or possess ammunition.
The NRA didn’t immediately respond to requests Monday for comment via email or at its media relations department submitted through the organization’s website.
Capt. Al Xiques, spokesman for the Pembroke Pines Police Department, said the city’s police chief, Dan S. Giustino, believes that “only law-abiding citizens, upon completion of a background check, should be able to purchase guns or ammunition _ without exceptions.”
Melissa Falkowski, a teacher at Stoneman Douglas, said she “wholeheartedly support(s) this legislation. It is an important start to the work that still needs to be done.”
Wasserman Schultz filed the legislation on Thursday, just before the two-week congressional recess for Easter and Passover. A good sign, she said, is that the legislation already has 36 co-sponsors. A not-so-good sign: None are Republicans.
Democrats are in the minority part in the House and Senate and rarely have a chance to advance controversial legislation. Wasserman Schultz said she expects she’ll eventually have some Republican co-sponsors, but the fate of the legislation depends on whether leaders in the Republican majority who control the flow of legislation allow its consideration. Republican leaders in the House and Senate have blocked legislation that would restrict firearms.
The proposal is also sponsored by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. In 2012, a gunman killed 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Wasserman Schultz, who was joined by her 18-year-old daughter at the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, has seen the effect of gun violence. One of her closest friends, then-U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., was left with a severe brain injury after a Jan. 8, 2011, assassination attempt in which six people were killed and 13 wounded. Wasserman Schultz was in the hospital room a few days later when Giffords opened her eyes.
Giffords later resigned from Congress and co-founded a gun violence prevention organization with her husband Mark Kelly, a Navy veteran and retired NASA astronaut.
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