Blair Holt gun control bill rehashed

To many gun owners, it's the tsunami of gun control legislation, the mother of all efforts to restrict private gun ownership and the guarantees of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

To others, it's just the latest anti-gun agitation, a formerly defeated proposal dredged back up for another try in this time of shifting political winds.

"It" is H.R. 45: Blair Holt's Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act of 2009. This bill was introduced in the 111th Congress by U. S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) on Jan. 6, 2009. Failing to attract any co-sponsors, it was referred for consideration to the House Committee on the Judiciary, where it now rests awaiting further action.

This bill is sweeping in its gun control proposals. Its summary description reads, "To provide for the implementation of a system for licensing for purchasers of certain firearms and for a record of sale system for those firearms, and for other purposes."

If enacted, this bill would prohibit anyone from owning any type of handgun without obtaining a license for such ownership. The same would be true for any semiautomatic firearm that can accept any detachable ammunition-feeding device.

Further, all sales of these firearms would have to go through a licensed dealer. The bill also directs the Attorney General to establish and run a federal record-of-sale system. And it would make it a criminal act not to register as an owner of a firearm.

"This bill validates the concerns of sportsmen and gun owners about what the new congress and administration portend for Second Amendment rights," says Lawrence G. Keane, Senior Vice-President/General Counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF).

Keane continues, "The U.S. Supreme Court definitively said in District of Columbia vs. Heller (2008) that the Second Amendment provides individual civil rights to law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms. (They don't have to be in a militia to own and keep guns.) This bill, however, would treat those citizens who exercise their civil liberties like criminals."

Thus, another gun control struggle may be looming. Pro-gun advocates see the Blair Holt bill as a direct assault on their constitutional rights and freedom. Anti-gun activists feel the time might be ripe for "change" promised by the Obama administration to include this comprehensive gun control legislation.

Blair Holt, the bill's namesake, was a 16-year old honor student in Chicago who was murdered in May, 2007 when another teenager began firing a handgun on a public bus in a gang-related attack. Acting heroically, Holt moved to shield a female rider from the bullets, and he was struck in the abdomen and died.

At his funeral, Rep. Bobby Rush pledged to introduce a strong new gun tracking bill in the 110th Congress in Holt's memory. Rush's Blair Holt Bill Licensing and Record of Sale Bill of 2007 failed to make it out of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. Rush's new bill in the current 111th Congress is a rehash of this previous effort.

Toure Muhammad, communications director for Rep. Rush, says while the Blair Holt bill would set up a system for tracking guns, it would not an infringement of Second Amendment rights. He explains, "This is not an attempt to ban guns. It is not intended in any way to impede the constitutional right to own or carry a gun.

"Instead, it would simply set up a system for registration of the type guns specified in the bill," Muhammad continues. "It would provide a way for police to track a gun that is used illegally back to its owner. It would be similar to the system we have for registering and titling automobiles."

Muhammad says in 2008, an average of 45 people were killed each day in the U.S. with guns. He says, "The urban cultural dynamic can't be ignored here. In the cities, people are killed daily by other people with guns. Rep. Rush's bill is an effort to curb this violence."

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has another take on the Blair Holt bill. This pro-gun lobby feels it is flawed in that it focuses on the instruments of crime rather than on the criminals who use the instruments. And further, the NRA believes the Blair Hold bill would turn law-abiding citizens into violators of the law.

NRA spokesperson Rachel Parsons explains, "Several provisions in this bill would make compliance nearly impossible. For instance, the bill spells out that if a firearms license holder fails to notify the Attorney General of an address change within 60 days, that person would be subject to a 5 year prison term and a fine of up to $250,000."

Parsons continues, "This bill goes against the core of what the NRA works for. Any kind of bill that would require photographing and fingerprinting for simple possession of a firearm is fundamentally different in opinion from that which the NRA holds. Any law should target the criminal element, but this law would simply further burden law-abiding people."

So, how likely is the Blair Holt bill's chance for passage? Pro-gun activists are vigilant but don't seem overly worried about it. They point out that the bill's failure to attract co-sponsors is an indication of a lack of enthusiasm for it among other congressmen. They feel it is too far-reaching and repressive of gun owners' rights to merit serious consideration by a majority of Congress.

Lawrence Keane of the NSSF states, "If this bill passes, Democrats would likely lose (control of) their chamber in upcoming mid-term elections (2010). The leadership in the House knows that." Keane says some 80 million-plus U.S. citizens own firearms, representing nearly half the households in the nation. He believes that House Democrats will allow the Blair Holt bill to die in subcommittee rather than risk the ire of so many pro-gun voters.

Rachel Parsons of the NRA says, "I think our members and other gun owners need to be aware of what's going on, and they should contact their elected representatives about the Blair Holt bill and similar bills. We want to see to it that bills like this that trample on Second Amendment rights never reach the House (of Representatives) floor.

"This bill has gotten people pretty fired up," Parsons concludes. "They see it as a threat to their constitutional right to keep and bear arms."