Washington Secrets

Universal background checks would end father-child gun gifts

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Politics,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Gun Control

It's a long tradition in America: A father buys a gun for his son or daughter to practice with at a range and eventually take hunting. It's one so rich in American life that many states are encouraging it by adding youth-only hunting seasons and urging parents to bring their children to hunter safety courses.

But universal background check proposals being considered in Washington and in some states are threatening to end that by criminalizing gun gifts, neighbor-to-neighbor sales or even inheritances where the one receiving the gun doesn't first pass a background check.

"They could very well make those illegal," said a spokesman for the National Rifle Association which is fighting universal background check proposals.

The NRA cites a poll that found that 40 percent of all gun sales are private, between family, friends and neighbors, where sellers know buyers and no background check is required. They say that just 4 percent of those are "arms length" sales where the two don't know each other.

"In this country even today people get their firearms from their father, their grandfather, they inherit them," said NRA President David Keene.

How those sales and gifts would be covered under a universal background check gives Keene and other gun advocates the chills.

One plan would be to register all 300 million guns so that the U.S. Attorney General could track all gun sales and require every buyer or gift recipient to be checked. Another is to cover only new gun sales, gifts and inheritances.

Keene said that those proposals are burdensome and costly, mostly because private buyers and sellers like fathers and children don't have access to the national background check system and would have to clear their purchases through a gun store or dealer who would charge a $50-$100 fee.

"What if you decide to buy a new shotgun because you'd like a new shotgun for your duck hunting and iIm your next door neighbor and I say, 'I'll by the old one,' and you say, 'That's great and I'll sell it to you.' How do you get that done?" asked Keene. "The problem is practical. How do I get you and me into the mix if we are trading over the back fence. In the case of you and me it would create an incredible burden because we can't access (the federal background check system) and we shouldn't be able to," he added.

Keene added that he's not crying wolf: In the 1980s, when gun laws were muddled, he said that some fathers were prosecuted for giving guns to their children without forcing their children to undergo background checks.

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