Justice Department circulating proposal to expand background checks
A Justice Department proposal being circulated on Capitol Hill would expand background checks to include all gun show sales and create a system for sellers who aren’t licensed dealers to complete the background check process.
The proposal — which has not been endorsed by President Donald Trump — is similar to the failed Manchin-Toomey background checks bill from 2013 and would apply to “all commercial sales, including sales at gun shows,” according to a copy of talking points obtained by NBC News.
Attorney General William Barr and White House Director of Legislative Affairs Eric Ueland are meeting with Republican senators this week to discuss the way forward on gun legislation, including this proposal and others. The White House is still searching for some legislation, either new or existing, that could get the necessary support from Democrats and Republicans in order to pass the Senate.
A Justice Department official confirmed the agency had drafted the background check proposal.
“The President has not signed off on anything yet but has been clear he wants meaningful solutions that actually protect the American people and could potentially prevent these tragedies from ever happening again,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley, who emphasized the document wasn’t from the White House, said in a statement.
A senior administration official described the meetings as an effort to hear from senators and get their reaction to various ideas, saying this proposal was pulled together by the Department of Justice “in response to previous conversations about various commercial background check concepts.”
Ueland told reporters that he and Barr were on Capitol Hill seeking general lawmaker input on the issue. “The president has asked us to come to the Hill to engage in conversations and seek feedback from members on the question of what ideas they have and reactions to policy ideas to deal with the issue of gun violence," he said. "That’s what we’re up here today working on.”
Barr also said officials were meeting with members to solicit thoughts, not relay information or any presidential plans. "I’m up here just kicking around some ideas, getting perspectives, so I can be in a better position to advise the president. But the president has made no decision yet on these issues," he said.
Barr and Ueland were expected to continue their meetings on Capitol Hill this week.
Under the proposal, a gun seller who isn’t a licensed firearms dealer would be required to conduct a background check through either an existing firearms dealer or a newly created entity called a “licensed transfer agent,” which would be authorized to initiate checks for private sellers.
The DOJ plan seeks to address concerns by gun-rights advocates that background checks could create a paper trail that would eventually lead to a national gun registry.
In a one-page summary of the proposal, it says sellers would be responsible for keeping a record of the sale with the buyer's information — but only the seller would retain that information.
“The only documentation reflecting the identity of the buyer would be the Bill of Sale in the custody of the seller,” the proposal says.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who met with Barr and Ueland in his office in the Russell Senate Office Building on Tuesday, said that Barr was “not really” trying to sell him on the proposal, but presenting it as an idea they were working on. Hawley said he had concerns about the original Manchin-Toomey bill, something that Barr tried to address.
“I am concerned about anything that creates — anything that gets us along down the road towards a national registry, that has been a long-standing concerns of what Manchin-Toomey is trying to do — or the kind of proposal Manchin-Toomey embraces,” Hawley told reporters Wednesday. “I think the attorney general’s proposal was an attempt to address some of those concerns frankly, which I think is interesting and helpful. So maybe there’s some compromise.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he had seen the document but had yet to meet with Barr on it, though he expected to have that discussion soon.
“It’s just an outline of what they’re trying to do,” Manchin told reporters. “These are just outlines, at least the republicans are still engaged and talking and that’s very very hopeful for me.”
But Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who has spearheaded Democratic outreach to the White House on gun legislation, expressed skepticism.
“It reflects some of the discussions we have been having, but there are also some new ideas that may not be great ideas,” Murphy said of the document. Murphy would not say which ideas he was referring to.
“I’m not sure the utility of shopping a proposal with Republicans that the president may not support,” Murphy said. “That’s an odd way to go about trying to get consensus, is leaving the question of the president’s position open.”
Republicans said the administration visits could help advance the process. “My impression is that the White House is still mulling things over and they’re doing a lot of listening,” Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said after his meeting with Barr Wednesday. “I think the White House is smart to send the attorney general, the attorney general has a lot of credibility over here, and I think he’s a good person to look at this in a cool and dispassionate way.”
The hurdle, said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, lay in the movement from theory to execution. There are “a lot of good ideas there. The challenge is too many ideas and not enough consensus," he said, "so that’s what our job is now, is to try to find a way to build consensus.”
Cornyn said a decision from Trump “would help a lot.”
“The meetings could go on forever,” he said.