How to Write a Meaningless Law

| Tue Mar. 12, 2013 9:08 PM EDT

Currently, licensed firearms dealers are required to conduct a background check before they can sell you a gun. The FBI conducts the check but deletes its record of the inquiry within 24 hours. The only place that records are maintained longer than that is with the dealers themselves. Private transactions, often done at gun shows, don't require any background check at all.

You need to know this background to understand how ludicrous this report is:

Senators negotiating a bill mandating background checks for all gun buyers are privately expecting the National Rifle Association not to fight the measure — provided the legislation does not require private gun sellers to maintain records of the checks, NBC News has learned. If that requirement is met and key Republican negotiator Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma signs on, the powerful gun lobby has signaled to lawmakers that they would not actively oppose the bill — and not count votes in favor of it as part of its highly influential NRA lawmaker ratings — according to Senate aides familiar with the stalled negotiations.

Under these conditions there would be no way to enforce the law. If you suspected someone of selling a gun privately without conducting a background check, they'd simply tell you that they did, but they didn't keep the record. The FBI wouldn't be of any help, since they're required to destroy all their records. And that would be that.

So there you have it. This is apparently the compromise that Republicans are offering: they'll support the background check bill only if it's written so that it's literally meaningless. And keep in mind: this is the least controversial piece of true gun legislation on the table right now. It's the one supported by 90 percent of the public, the one everybody figured Obama would settle for because he knew he'd never get a ban on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.

Welcome to post-Sandy Hook Washington DC. Seems an awful lot like pre-Sandy Hook Washington DC, doesn't it?

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