Paul Jenkins: Begich, Murkowski deserve credit for gun law votes

Paul Jenkins

Shrugging off the scheming, spinning and outright lies from supporters of President Barack Obama's push for universal background checks in gun purchases, a principled minority of the Senate, including Alaska's two senators, stood up for what is right. We should be thankful.

Despite leftist blathering to the contrary, the ballyhooed background checks expansion would have created a de facto national gun registry, long the dream of those whose ultimate goal is confiscation.

Spurred by the mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., a moderate with an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association, and Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., a former House member facing re-election in a blue-tilting state, teamed up. They hammered out a "compromise" amendment to pending gun control legislation that would have expanded the checks -- and done much, much more.

The poorly written amendment contained provisions that should have made gun owners' hair stand on end -- everything from gutting the federal Firearms Owners' Protection Act to the consolidation of personal information now held by states to setting up a gun control-centric National Commission on Mass Violence.

The measure failed to garner 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. The vote was 54-46, with four Democrats, including Alaska's own Mark Begich and two others facing re-election next year, joining Republicans in opposition. Begich and the others now find themselves targets of hysterical gun-grabbers.

Yes, yes, I know, federal law already bars "any system of registration of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or dispositions. ..." On its face, Manchin-Toomey did, too, even providing for a 15-year sentence for a violation. But it contained a loophole.

Unfortunately, federal bureaucrats in the past ignored the prohibition -- and would again, if allowed. Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University in 1994, for instance, received a Justice Department grant to create a national gun registry with data from states' background check programs. That died in court. In 1996, Justice Department computer software allowed police officials to illegally register the names and addresses of gun buyers, along with detailed specifics about their guns. In 1998, the FBI announced it would retain gun buyers' names for 18 months, but cut it to six months after heated protests. Congress put the kibosh on even that and ordered destruction of the information gathered.

More recently, federal agents have swooped into gun stores with laptop computers to copy records, and in Alaska last year, despite the law, they demanded a gun store's records so they could be hauled away and copied. Alaska's congressional delegation blocked that.

David Kopel is research director at the Independence Institute and adjunct professor of advanced constitutional law at Denver University, Sturm College of Law. A gun control opponent and firearms policy authority, he writes on The Volokh Conspiracy website that the Manchin-Toomey amendment, which supposedly centered on gun rights enhancements, contained many provisions that were "in fact major advancements for gun control."

He notes Manchin-Toomey amends current law prohibiting a national gun registry by stipulating the attorney general -- and it mentions only the attorney general -- and entities he or she controls would be prohibited from establishing them. Kopel contends by "inclusio unius exclusio alterius" other entities could have created the registries, using whatever information they acquired. That is a big loophole.

The Left knows that. Obama's gun control package, especially the expanded background check, was a cynical attempt to advance gun control by exploiting the deaths of 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook murdered by a madman with stolen guns. Nothing in Manchin-Toomey would have saved a single life.

What is frightening is that the Left knows that, too. It knows 40 percent of criminals get their guns on the streets and another 40 percent get them from family and friends; that the mentally ill are virtually invisible to background checks and likely will remain so because of privacy concerns; that existing laws are not enforced.

Instead of trying to protect lives, the Left wastes our time harassing the law-abiding, blaming the National Rifle Association -- which represents some 4 million Americans -- and castigating politicians who see through the gun control fantasies.

Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski, no matter what you think of their politics and no matter their reasons, did the right thing. They, and the other senators who put principle before politics, deserve better than they have gotten.

Paul Jenkins is editor of the

Paul Jenkins