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Barr fails to persuade Cruz on expanded background checks

The Hill logo The Hill 9/18/2019 Alexander Bolton
Ted Cruz in a suit and tie: Barr fails to persuade Cruz on expanded background checks © Greg Nash Barr fails to persuade Cruz on expanded background checks

A proposal floated by Attorney General William Barr to dramatically expand background checks for gun sales is falling flat with a key conservative: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has warned of potential backlash from the right.

Cruz is worried that Barr's proposal, which largely mirrors the 2013 background check amendment sponsored by Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), could move Democrats in the direction of supporting confiscation of certain firearms.

Cruz is instead pushing his own proposal with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to fix holes in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and crack down on straw purchasers of firearms who turn around and sell them to prohibited individuals or middlemen.

"Of the 10 Democrats onstage running for president, three are explicitly supporting gun confiscation by the federal government," Cruz said Wednesday after Senate Republicans discussed gun control proposals at a weekly lunch meeting.

"If we want to stop crimes, we need to focus on the bad guys, not the good guys," he added.

The administration has circulated a memo on Capitol Hill that proposes expanding background checks to all advertised commercial sales, including sales at guns shows, along the lines of the Manchin-Toomey proposal.

Under his plan background checks would be conducted for all commercial sales either through a federally licensed firearms dealer or a newly created class of licensed transfer agents.

Licensed gun dealers and transfer agents would not maintain these records, a provision intended to allay fears by Second Amendment advocates that the proposal could lead to the creation of a federal firearms registry.

Asked about Barr's proposal, Cruz said, "I believe the proper path for the Senate to take is to vote on Grassley-Cruz and pass it."

"And the last time we voted on it in the Harry Reid Democratic Senate, it got 52 votes, including 9 Democrats. it got the most bipartisan support of any of the comprehensive legislation. That's the right path. Let's solve the problem, not simply take political gestures," he told reporters, referring to when the Senate last voted on his proposal in 2013 under then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Cruz is taking issue with proposals to expand background checks to all commercial gun sales, as envisioned by Barr's latest memo, because it could lead to the creation of national firearms registry.

"I think Democratic members of Congress, a great many of them, want a national registry because the ultimate policy they want is gun confiscation. That is terrible policy, and it would make people less safe," he said.

"If you want to stop crimes, don't undermine the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. Focus on the felons and fugitives and those with serious mental illness who are a danger to themselves and others," he added.

Other Republicans have raised concerns about creating a slippery slope that could lead to a national firearms registry.

"The idea of a registry really bothers me," said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.). "But I do think there are places - if you have to do a background check in a commercial store, a retail store - it just makes sense if you do it online or some other way the intent is still there that we have a background check."

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