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Gun Rights Activist Endorses Expanded Background Checks


The background checks proposal that Ailsa mentioned is an amendment put forward by Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Pat Toomey. It would expand background checks to include gun shows and Internet sales.

Among gun rights activists, Alan Gottlieb is a figure of consequence. So his support of the Manchin-Toomey amendment is meaningful. Gottlieb's Second Amendment Foundation has been involved in several high profile cases, including the Heller decision. That's the landmark ruling affirmed the right to own a gun for self-protection, not just to serve in a militia.

Mr. Gottlieb joins us from Belleview, Washington. Welcome to the program.

ALAN GOTTLIEB: Good to be with you. Thank you.

SIEGEL: And you emailed the members of the other organization that you chair, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. We read the bill. We like the bill. And you said, it includes, I quote, "advances for our cause." What's an advance for the cause of gun rights in this bill?

GOTTLIEB: Well, first, it protects and advances. In the protection area, it flat-out states that no national firearm gun registry can be created. And then, not only that, it states that if any government employee or any official tried to create a registry system from it or misuse the data - even leak it to the media to publish names of gun owners, as an example - they'd be committing a felony with a 15-year prison sentence.

As far as expanding gun rights, it would now allow the citizens of the United States to buy a handgun anywhere in the country, not just in your home state of residence but you could buy it anywhere. It also has a protection provision in there that makes it better for gun owners traveling across the country, if you have a gun with you while you're traveling and you get into a highly restrictive state, say like maybe New York or New Jersey, and you stop for gas or your car breaks down or you spend a night in a motel, then you couldn't be detained or arrested for breaking their gun law because you're traveling through the state.

That is a great protection for gun owners, as well.

SIEGEL: Your group's bottom line here is different than that of the NRA. Does your group take a different view of gun rights than the NRA does?

GOTTLIEB: I don't think our bottom line is really different. I think our strategy may be a little bit different. We don't take a different view. I think the reason why the NRA is not supporting it, quite frankly, because the atmosphere out there has become toxic. When you have the president of the United States running around screaming for banning guns and magazines and Dianne Feinstein and Senator Schumer going for draconian gun laws and Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, you know, signing a law that says you can only have seven bullets in your gun for self protection, you create an environment, quite frankly, that everybody backs into their corners.

And so, at this point, everybody's worried what might happen and they're just saying, do nothing.

SIEGEL: Are the advances in this bill, as you see them, sufficiently important that you would oppose, say, Republican amendments - one might be a total national reciprocity on conceal carry permits - that would be so unacceptable to Democrats that they would prove to be poison pills? That is, is this bill, as you've read it, better than no bill at all?

GOTTLIEB: This bill is definitely better than no bill at all, but I still would support those Republican amendments for reciprocity or any - any amendment that would obviously strengthen gun rights, I would obviously support. And if the Democrats didn't want to, quote-unquote, go along with that, it would show that they're the extreme people, not my side being extreme.

SIEGEL: Mr. Gottlieb, you've mentioned what the president has said, what Senator Feinstein has said, what Governor Cuomo in New York has called for, but aren't there also public opinion polls which actually show that significant majorities of Americans can imagine controls on gun sales and ownership that are just completely unacceptable to your group or to the National Rifle Association?

GOTTLIEB: Well, there's no doubt the public opinion polls show, quite honestly, that the American people support a background check overwhelmingly and that gun owners support a background check overwhelmingly. The problem is, the devil's always in the details. If you write the background check the right way, just like the Manchin/Toomey thing is, you know, I'm supporting it.

But if you write it the wrong way, then it infringes on my rights and, quite frankly, doesn't do anything to solve the problem to begin with, I'm not going to support it. So it all depends on how it's written.

SIEGEL: And since I gather Senators Toomey and Manchin are scrapping, they need some votes and it's not that easy in the Senate, would the Citizens Committee For The Right To Keep And Bear Arms, the group you chair, would you urge other, say, Republican senators to join them in supporting that amendment?

GOTTLIEB: We have done that, yes, by all means. I - that's why I think this Manchin/Toomey amendment gives us lots of protections and advances our rights and our cause a whole lot. In return for that background check that's done, you know, again, in commercial environments only. It doesn't prevent me from selling a gun to a friend or giving one to my son and I think it makes sense.

SIEGEL: Mr. Gottlieb, thank you very much for talking with us about it.

GOTTLIEB: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Alan Gottlieb; spoke to us from Bellevue, Washington. He's the chair of the Citizens Committee For The Right To Keep And Bear Arms. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.