Background Checks Take Center Stage at Fractious Senate Hearing

Democrats looking to sustain public pressure for new gun laws in the wake of the Newtown shootings clashed Wednesday with Republicans and the National Rifle Association over universal background checks, a far less dramatic proposed change than an assault weapons ban or limits on high capacity magazines.

“My problem with background checks is you’re never going to get criminals to go through universal background checks,” Wayne LaPierre, CEO and chief lobbyist for the NRA, said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence, the first since President Barack Obama laid out new measures to curb gun crime. “None of it makes any sense in the real world.”

LaPierre sat at the opposite end of the witness table from Mark Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Critically wounded at a shooting in Tucson in 2011, Giffords opened the hearing with a dramatic plea, haltingly asking Congress to “do something to prevent gun violence.”

“My wife would not have been sitting here today if we had stronger background checks,” Kelly told the committee later in the hearing.

Under current law, people can buy guns through a private seller without getting a background check. It’s commonly referred to as the “gun show loophole.” The Obama administration’s proposal to close this loophole by requiring background checks for all sales of firearms dominated much of Wednesday’s hearing.

The exchanges at the hearing illustrated the sharp political divide over changing the nation’s gun laws — and the difficulty in enacting any of the more dramatic new measures included in the package the White House is pushing, which includes an assault weapons ban and limits on high capacity magazines.

“The deaths in Newtown should not be used to put forward every gun control measure that has been floating around for years,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee’s ranking member.

“Emotion often leads to bad policies,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who called the 1994 assault weapons ban a “singularly ineffective piece of legislation.”