As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., will oversee any legislation on gun control that makes its way to the Senate floor. At the first in a series of congressional hearings on the issue Wednesday, his line of questioning suggested that expanded background checks and closing the so-called gun show loophole will be top priorities — and perhaps the only ones that stand a chance in the full Senate.
Displaying his background as a Vermont prosecutor, Leahy confronted National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre on whether he had changed his support for mandatory instant criminal background checks at gun shows that he voiced in a 1999 House Judiciary subcommittee hearing.
When LaPierre avoided giving a direct answer, he got a rebuke. “That’s not my question,” he said. “Please, Mr. LaPierre, I’m not trying to play games here.”
LaPierre ultimately said that he no longer supported expanding background checks to purchases at gun shows because “the law right now is a failure.” Despite his four attempts to get an answer, Leahy seemed unsatisfied.
Leahy, a gun owner himself, is more of a centrist on gun control. Although he voted for the 1994 assault-weapons Ban, he has stopped short of endorsing proposals by either the White House or fellow Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein to reinstate the ban. Though the Judiciary chairman has appeared open to discussing a limitation on high-capacity magazines this year, he did not make that a focus of his opening remarks or questioning at the hearing.
Without his support, it will be that much more difficult for more liberal members of the committee to get their legislation to the Senate floor. Last week, Leahy introduced his own legislation along with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that seeks to help law-enforcement officials combat the straw purchase of firearms.
“I know gun store owners in Vermont. They follow the law and conduct background checks to block the conveyance of guns to those who should not have them,” he said in his opening remarks. “If we can all agree that criminals and those adjudicated as mentally ill should not buy firearms, why should we not try to plug the loopholes in the law that allow them to buy guns without background checks? It is a simple matter of common sense.”