Melissa Block talks to Idaho Sen. James Risch about opposing the gun legislation Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to move to the floor later this week. Risch was one of thirteen Republican senators who signed a letter addressed to Sen. Reid on Monday, threatening to filibuster the bill.
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
I'm Melissa Block.
And we begin this hour with an impasse in the Senate. Thirteen Republicans sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday, and it begins this way: We, the undersigned, intend to oppose any legislation that would infringe on the American people's constitutional right to bear arms.
The Republican senators are threatening to filibuster new gun control legislation that would, among other things, expand background checks on gun purchases. Reid is expected to bring a bill up for consideration on Thursday, but it's not clear it has the bipartisan support to overcome a filibuster. Yesterday, in Hartford, Connecticut, President Obama reiterated his support for the bill and urged the public to demand a vote in the Senate.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If you believe that the families of Newtown and Aurora and Tucson and Virginia Tech and the thousands of Americans who've been gunned down in the last four months deserve a vote, we all have to stand up.
BLOCK: I'm joined now by one of the Republicans who threaten to filibuster the legislation, Senator Jim Risch of Idaho. Senator Risch, welcome to the program.
SENATOR JAMES RISCH: Thank you very much for having me.
BLOCK: Let me ask you about that language in the letter that says you would oppose any bill that would infringe on the constitutional right to bear arms. We require background checks now if you buy a gun from a gun dealer, right? So is that infringing on the constitutional right to own a gun?
RISCH: Well, I don't think that is. I don't think any courts have held that that is an infringement on the right to keep and bear arms. But the letter we signed was an expression, not a threat. You referred to it as a threat.
It's a statement that we feel very strongly about the fact that the right to keep and bear arms is a constitutional right, just as the three rights enumerated in the First Amendment shortly before that: the right to religious freedom, the right to free speech and the right to freedom of assembly. All of those have equal standing as far as constitutional rights.
What this is - what - one thing that should be mentioned right at the outset here is the fact that this in no way denigrates the terrible tragedy and the - and what happened to the people in Newtown or the other tragedies that we've had. As far as firearms deaths are concerned, they're awful. They're terrible. I'm a father and a grandfather. I just - I can't imagine if you had someone who was caught in it.
BLOCK: Sure. But, Senator Risch, if it's not an infringement to have a background check, why does it infringe on constitutional rights to expand the background checks to gun shows where a lot of firearms are purchased?
RISCH: Well, there are some guns purchased at gun shows, but they're also purchased on the Internet, through the newspaper, on the street and everywhere else. And the guns that are purchased in a gun store - or, for that matter, any gun show - if it's from a licensed dealer, that dealer is required to perform a background check. They're trained in it. They're - they do it all the time. It's customary for them.
If you expand it beyond that to people who are required to be dealers - and you can sell a handful of firearms every year and not be a dealer - if you expand it to those people, they're going to have to deal with the federal bureaucracy, which is very, very difficult to deal with.
And, really, if you have the right to keep and bear arms, you should have the rights - you - it connotes a right to purchase one, to sell one, to trade in one, and you really have to have a robust market if indeed you're going to have a constitutional right.
So - the other difficulty I have is the background check system simply isn't working and isn't enforced now. I'm told that in 2010, the last year that statistics were available, that about 15,000 people tried to buy a gun and lied on the form and swore under oath that they were not a convicted felon, that they were not a fugitive from justice, and, in fact, they were. Out of those 15,000, 44 were prosecuted. What you really need to do is start enforcing the law that we have instead of putting more laws on the books and trying to convince people that this is actually going to do something. I don't agree...
BLOCK: I've seen other statistics that show that a number of those people were prosecuted at the state level. But let me move on and ask you about something else because some of your fellow Republicans have said that the pledge to filibuster is really sending the wrong message. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, both have said they don't understand this threat. What are we afraid of, they're asking. Are you afraid that if there is an up and down vote, an up or down vote, on the gun control bill, that it would pass, and why not let that vote happen?
RISCH: No, we're not afraid of anything. What's going to happen is there's going to be a motion to proceed to the bill. Those of us who feel strongly about protecting this constitutional right will vote no. There won't be 60 of us. We'll proceed to the bill. There'll be discussion on the amendments. There will then be a motion to proceed to a vote on it. Again, many of us will vote no. If they get 60 of them, then we'll proceed to vote on the bill.
RISCH: And then it'll get a vote up or down. That's what's going to happen.
BLOCK: Senator Risch, thanks for being with us.
RISCH: Certainly. Happy to do it.
BLOCK: That's Republican Senator Jim Risch of Idaho. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.