Gun Control Advocates Push for More Background Checks

By Seth Lewis | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

( - While President Bush unveiled a sweeping initiative Monday aimed at stopping gun violence, gun-control advocates urged the president to go a step further and force private dealers to perform background checks at gun shows.

Shutting off the so-called "gun show loopholes" would severely shackle Second Amendment rights by allowing the government to regulate private gun sales, opponents say.

"The loopholes they refer to are constitutional freedoms of Americans," said Erich Pratt, director of communications for Gun Owners of America.

Such a loophole law would require private gun owners to do what federally licensed firearms dealers have to: run criminal background checks on potential customers.

While gun-rights groups say it's possible, opponents say it would significantly erode Second Amendment rights. "It's the incremental creep of banning more and more freedoms," Pratt said.

President Bush skirted the gun-show issue when he presented his two-year, $550 million plan Monday in Philadelphia.

The initiative, dubbed Project Safe Neighborhoods, will help hire 113 U.S. attorneys and 600 state and local prosecutors designated to fight gun violence.

"It will send an unmistakable message: If you use a gun illegally, you will do hard time," Bush said.

Meanwhile in Philadelphia on Monday, a non-profit advocacy group promoted by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) ran 60-second radio ads asking for stepped-up background checks at gun shows.

"Felons in 32 states can get guns at gun shows with no questions asked, and resell them on our streets," says the ad by the Americans for Gun Safety. "That's why we need a national law requiring background checks at all gun shows."

Felons are "well aware" of the loophole allowing them to buy guns from private parties at gun shows, said Nancy Hwa, a spokeswoman for Handgun Control.

"There's a double standard right now where licensed dealers have to do the background checks, while private dealers don't," Hwa said.

"The NRA tries to sound this alarm bell that it's going to put them out of business. It's kind of a red herring they use."

Still, the loophole issue is a hollow argument because few private sellers actually do business at gun shows, Pratt said.

"If you go to a gun show, you'd be lucky to find three or four tables that are operated by private sellers," he said.