It’s official—the next president of the United States will support closing the Gun Show Loophole, which allows unlicensed gun show vendors to sell firearms without conducting background checks.
Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) have publicly reiterated their support for closing the loophole during the current presidential campaign. On May 16, Republican nominee for president Senator John McCain (R-AZ) removed all doubt about his own position, stating, “I believe an accurate, fair and instant background check at gun shows is a reasonable requirement.”
To his credit, this was consistent with McCain’s previous actions and statements on the issue. The senator has co-sponsored two bills to close the Gun Show Loophole in the past: one with Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) in 2001 and another with Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) in 2003. He also supported efforts to close the loophole at the state level in Oregon and Colorado in 2000, appearing in television ads on behalf of Americans for Gun Safety.
McCain’s advocacy drew strong criticism from the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA has opposed all regulation of private sales at gun shows despite the fact that background checks typically take only a few minutes to complete. In response to McCain’s legislative efforts with Senator Lieberman in 2001, the NRA described him as “one of the premier flag carriers for the enemies of the Second Amendment.”
Despite these past grievances, McCain is typically a friend of the gun lobby. He holds a C+ rating from the NRA, has supported many of their key initiatives, and was invited to address 6,000 members of the organization at their recent 2008 annual convention in Louisville, Kentucky.
During that speech, the senator demonstrated that he agrees with the NRA on a number of issues and is eager to court the votes of gun owners in the 2008 presidential election. McCain indicated he opposes renewing the federal ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, supports legal protection for gun dealers who channel firearms to criminals and traffickers, embraces the NRA’s interpretation of the Second Amendment in the landmark Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller, and subscribes to the idea that the proliferation of guns in American society makes us safer.
But not necessarily McCain himself safer...
A few hours before Senator McCain gave his speech to the NRA, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee took the stage. When Huckabee’s speech was interrupted by a loud noise, he said, "That was Barack Obama. He just tripped off a chair. He's getting ready to speak and somebody aimed a gun at him and he dove for the floor.
Huckabee’s audience responded with laughter, but the Secret Service officers in the building seemed to take his comment more seriously. When Senator McCain spoke that afternoon, those attending his speech were forced to pass through metal detectors and hand over any weapons they were carrying. This included not just firearms, but any potentially harmful implements. As one convention attendee stated, “It’s kind of ironic, isn’t it? We preach the right to carry [handguns] everywhere, and we got to start by turning in a pocketknife.”
Senator McCain is well acquainted with this no-firearms-on-the-premises policy from his work at the U.S. Capitol, where all visitors are prohibited from bringing firearms.
Despite his electioneering at the NRA convention, McCain should be credited for demonstrating some common sense. His reiteration of support for closing the Gun Show Loophole in front of the “Guns Anytime, Anywhere, Anyhow” crowd is a good sign—and bad news for criminals and dangerous individuals who have grown accustomed to easy access to firearms. We hope the senator will now practice what he preaches and co-sponsor the “Gun Show Background Check Act of 2008,” which has been introduced in his chamber on Capitol Hill.