WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Alaska Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski, both of whom voted against the effort to extend background checks to gun shows and online sales, have supported an alternative that would increase the number of mental health records entered into the federal background check database.
"The system we have now, we should be focused on how to fix it before people start thinking -- 'Let's just expand it and make people feel better,' " Begich said. "Really what we should be doing is fixing a broken system."
He gave the example of the Connecticut gun store that legally sold two weapons found at the scene of the Newtown, Conn., massacre. The store had more than 500 violations, but the owner's license wasn't revoked until after the shooting.
"Why was that dealer not closed down before?" Begich said. "I get the advocates and what they are looking for but I think there are better approaches and ways we could address this."
Murkowski said Alaskans were heavily against the proposal. "I can tell you, the mail coming from folks back home, the phone calls coming from folks back home, were pretty hard against an expansion of background checks," she said, adding that she still listened to sponsors of the measure.
The senator said she was originally concerned about Alaskans living off the road system, in rural villages without gun stores, who order guns over the Internet. To pick up the gun they would have to buy a ticket to the nearest town with a gun dealer, she said. "Whoever you're purchasing from the Internet has to send the gun directly to the dealer ... it doesn't come to you, it goes to whoever is doing your background check."
But Murkowski said the sponsors agreed to put in an exemption for people living in such remote areas.
Alaskans living on the road system then objected, though. "The concern we were hearing from Alaskans was, 'Wait a minute ... you are giving a pass to those that are out in rural Alaska. Why are you setting up this two-tiered system?' There was a lot of pushback there," Murkowski said.
"It just seemed the efforts to try to address the concerns just further complicated the picture without really providing for the remedy," she said. "The remedy is, how do you reduce gun violence? Well, there are an awful lot who will cite to the fact that the background checks at the gun shows would not have done anything to change the outcome of the tragedy at Sandy Hook."