House Republicans oppose background-check vote

Forty-seven House Republicans sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner today urging him to refuse to bring to a floor vote any gun-policy legislation that isn’t backed by a majority of Republicans – first and foremost including a push for expanded background checks.

The letter was drafted by Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, and Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga.

“The Second Amendment is the stronghold of our Constitutionally-protected freedoms,” they said in a joint statement. “As constitutional conservative Members of Congress, we have taken an oath to defend those rights from all infringements. However, the push for universal background checks takes the right to bear arms, which should be protected by the government, and transforms it into a privilege granted by the government. This is both unlawful and unacceptable.

“While our hearts go out to the victims of all violent gun crimes, we must not let the emotions of such tragedies dictate policy that will only affect law-abiding citizens,” the lawmakers continued. “Therefore, we urge Speaker Boehner and our Republican leadership to soundly and publicly reject all efforts to breach our Second Amendment protected rights – starting first by standing up to universal background checks.”

I’m having trouble deciphering some of the signatures, and neither Broun’s nor Stockman’s office responded to my request for a clean list. The one California member’s name that I can clearly discern is that of Doug LaMalfa, R-Oroville, a House freshman and former state Senator and Assemblyman who has an “A” grade from the National Rifle Association.

Read the letter in its entirety, after the jump…

Dear Speaker Boehner,

We are writing to express our strong opposition to legislation requiring private sale background checks for firearms purchases.

The so-called “universal background check” system would be a violation of Constitutionally-guaranteed rights on an unprecedented scale. The principle that no person can purchase or sell a firearm without first receiving government permission transforms the Second Amendment from a “right” that should be protected by the government into a privilege granted by the government.

In addition to constitutional concerns, even if every private transfer of firearms were regulated by the federal government, it would not be an effective crime fighting tool. Typically, shooters steal firearms (Adam Lanza), pass a background check (James Holmes and Jared Loughner) or receive their firearms through straw purchasers (which is already illegal).

Such a law would apply to transfers between family members, friends and neighbors, who would be required to seek out a federally licensed gun dealer to facilitate the transaction. Many sellers in very rural areas would find it a great hardship to travel many miles, accompanied by their purchasers, in order to make a sale in a licensed dealer’s place of business. And many small dealers are closed on weekends and holidays. Will the people’s right to transfer lawfully owned products be valid only during working hours?

We are also very concerned about the potential for official misuse and gun owner registration, as the BATFE is increasingly copying the contents of gun dealers’ 4473 forms.

Universal background check legislation is also opposed by the National Rifle Association, Gun Owners of America, the National Association for Gun Rights, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, and other national and state level pro-Second Amendment organization.

Therefore, under the precedents and traditions of the House, we would ask that no gun legislation be brought to the floor of the House unless it has the support of a majority of our caucus.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    Excellent story Josh.

  • JohnW

    Their argument that expanded background checks would be unconstitutional falls short in two respects. First, it is the Supreme Court, not a couple of congressmen who make that call. Second, if expanded checks are unconstitutional, then the background checks already on the books also would be unconstitutional. No court has made such a determination. Nor will they ever.

    For better or worse, the Supreme Court has determined that the Second Amendment provides for an individual right to bear arms. That means a law or regulation on guns is subject to a higher level of judicial scrutiny than something that is a mere “privilege.” But gun rights are not absolute, anymore than First Amendment rights are. If the congressmen think otherwise, they should talk to Justice Scalia about that.

    It’s often said that, unlike the case of guns, owning and driving a car are “privileges.” In practical terms, that is a distinction without a difference. Cars didn’t exist in 1789, so there is nothing in the Constitution about them. But, as a practical matter, we all have a right to own and drive cars, subject to reasonable restrictions regarding age, testing, impairment, speed limits, stop signs etc. Without the Second Amendment, that’s pretty much the way it would be with guns. Canada does not have a Second Amendment, but they have plenty of guns. Same thing in most other countries.

    Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq had one of the highest gun ownership rates in the world. Fine job that did of protecting the people from an oppressive central government!

  • Publius


    Throughout our history there are numerous occasions where the supreme court got it wrong. In the Dred Scott v. Sanford the supreme court ruled that congress did not have the power to interfere with a man’s property rights as it pertains to slavery. The Missouri compromise was also turned over for the same reason. The court is not the final say. All branches of government and the people have the final say. There are ways to change the constitution, for better or for worse congress or the court do not have the power to deny someone’s right to own a firearm. If this is so important and so many Americans support it then an Amendment is within reason, or move to a State like Ca. that restricts the right to bear arms under the power granted to them in the tenth amendment. To free the slaves and to correct the incorrect decisions of the court we passed the 13th and 14th. Why is this concept so hard for people to understand?

  • JohnW


    Granted, a Supreme Court ruling on a constitutional question is not necessarily the final, final word on the subject. The Constitution can be amended. Ted Nugent can overthrow the government and declare himself Leader for Life. The Court’s initial ruling can be modified or reversed over time through subsequent cases. And, yes, the court often doesn’t get it right, as in Dred Scott or “separate but equal.” Or, more recently, in my opinion, in the Bush v Gore, Citizens United and Heller (D.C. gun ban) cases.

    In the Heller case, gun rights activists no doubt think the decision was not far-reaching enough. In contrast, I think the Court got it totally wrong by disregarding the historical context and intent expressed in the first 13 words of the Second Amendment. But, for now, both you and I are stuck with what the Court said. Bush became president. And Citizens United and Heller are the law of the land.

  • MichaelB

    Good for the Republicans for opposing this. Passing it is not going to prevent another mass shooting.

    What about addressing treatment of mental health issues instead of just more of the usual – bringing out the parade of victims as political props and saying “pass more gun control for the children”?

    The so called “argument” from the left wing on this issue is just an emotional one without a record of success. Feinstein’s “assault weapons” ban didn’t work the way she said it would – but we supposedly “need” it anyway to “reduce gun violence”. She supposedly “knows better” on this issue because of what Dan White did to Harvey Milk. Really? How? We’re still hearing predictions from gun control supporters about more concealed weapons permits supposedly causing “wild west shootouts” but it didn’t happen when states issued more. Did Chicago gun laws “work” to reduce violence? No, they haven’t.

    Some of us are not impressed by gun control supporters (who don’t support the 2nd Amendment to begin with) claiming a “moral authority” impose their will on everyone else/passing judgment on law abiding people with no evidence. There is nothing “common sense” about passing more restrictions/bans and expecting the criminals to comply with them. You’re now an instant criminal in New York state if your legally owned/permitted handgun has more than 7 cartridges in a magazine. How silly.

    The real problem is the left wing dumbing down the public on personal responsbility/accountability in our society. And then doubling down to defend their failed policies. Guns have been legal/available for years in our nation but now they are suddenly the “cause” of violence/need to be removed. Thanks to the so called “progressives” we now have to have a debate as to who is really “responsible” when someone breaks the law with a firearm. It should be obvious to anyone with common sense.

  • JohnW

    @5 MichaelB

    You’re correct when you say that some supporters of reasonable gun control measures (ones that would work and not just be “feel good”) are not big fans of the Second Amendment to begin with. I’m guilty as charged on that one. I accept but don’t agree with the Court’s Heller decision interpretation.

    Absent a Second Amendment, I would whole-heartedly support public policy that sought to regulate, not ban firearms — just as I support regulating but not banning automobiles. That’s the way it works in other Western democracies. Canada, for example. Are Canadians any “less free” than we Americans because they regulate but don’t ban firearms?

    What I don’t support is the radical absolutism of Second Amendment purists, who won’t be happy until people carrying firearms around town, on campus etc., is as commonplace as iPhones and iPads.

  • MichaelB


    Firearms are regulated by public policy. Try purchasing one in this state (if you can find a city in the Bay Area that will allow a gun shop/show/FFL holder to operate). Ex felons can’t legally own them.

    It’s a question of how much more and if new ones actually accomplish something other than making gun control supporters (many of whom have an emotional ax to grind)just feel good/punish people who have nothing to do with violence. Taxing ammunition sales, retroactive owner licensing, liability insurance requirements, confiscation of “high capacity” magazines, etc. will not be complied with by criminals.

    The 2nd Amendment enjoys widespread public support as an individual right. It should considering that quotes from Jefferson and Madison refer to “people” and “arms”. The “collective right” argument is a left wing/progressive invention.

    The gun control movement (radical absolutists) doesn’t want people owning guns at all. If they can prevent a law abiding person from legally owning a gun, it’s always “reasonable” because they think guns “cause” violence/have no constructive or responsible usage. They were just fine with keeping the Washington DC gun bans for the law abiding (which did not work) “as is”. And they frequently sing the praises of other nations (England, Australia) that prohibit gun ownership/have disarmed their own citizens. That doesn’t sound like “freedom”, does it?

    It already is commonplace in most states for law abiding people to be issued permits (if they choose, not to be forced) to legally carry firearms for their own defense. And the “wild west shootout” predictions from gun control supporters never came true.