Tom Mauser, Mark Udall and the gun-show loophole: Why no deal?

Mark Udall seems an unlikely target for Tom Mauser's campaign to close the gun-show loophole -- the subject of full-page ads in the Denver Post and Boulder Daily Camera aimed squarely at the Colorado senator.

After all, Udall's derided the loophole for at least a decade. Take this statement from a 2000 Denver Post article when he was still a member of the U.S. House: "I support common-sense steps to make it harder for criminals and children to obtain firearms and to reduce the dangers of accidental gunfire, including closing the gun-show loophole in the Brady Act."

So why hasn't Udall signed on to the loophole-closure bill offered by New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg and co-sponsored by his Colorado colleague, Michael Bennet?

When asked that question, Udall spokeswoman Tara Trujillo offers this prepared statement: "Mark has a deep respect for Tom Mauser and very much supported the passage of Colorado's law that regulated gun sales at gun shows after the Columbine shooting. Mark has supported efforts to close the gun show loop-hole in the past and the only question is whether the Lautenberg bill does that without unintended consequences. He will review the language of the bill carefully and make a decision based on his view of the merits and not in response to pressure from newspaper, radio or television ads."

The response offers plenty of opportunities for reading between the lines. For instance, the reference to "unintended consequences" suggests potential differences between the Colorado law enforcing background checks at gun shows, which Udall supported, and the Lautenberg bill, which can be read in its entirety by clicking here. The largest of these distinctions involves the major role played in the Lautenberg measure by the U.S. Justice Department.

For example, this section gives the Attorney General's office authority when it comes to gun-show registration and fees:

Sec. 932. Regulation of firearms transfers at gun shows

(a) Registration of Gun Show Promoters -- It shall be unlawful for any person to organize, plan, promote, or operate a gun show unless that person --

(1) registers with the Attorney General in accordance with regulations promulgated by the Attorney General; and

(2) pays a registration fee, in an amount determined by the Attorney General.

(b) Responsibilities of Gun Show Promoters- It shall be unlawful for any person to organize, plan, promote, or operate a gun show unless that person --

(1) before commencement of the gun show, verifies the identity of each gun show vendor participating in the gun show by examining a valid identification document (as defined in section 1028(d)(3)) of the vendor containing a photograph of the vendor;

(2) before commencement of the gun show, requires each gun show vendor to sign --

(A) a ledger with identifying information concerning the vendor; and

(B) a notice advising the vendor of the obligations of the vendor under this chapter;

(3) notifies each person who attends the gun show of the requirements of this chapter, in accordance with such regulations as the Attorney General shall prescribe; and

(4) maintains a copy of the records described in paragraphs (1) and (2) at the permanent place of business of the gun show promoter for such period of time and in such form as the Attorney General shall require by regulation.

In addition, this passage gives the Attorney General plenty of power when it comes to inspecting gun shows:

(d) Inspection Authority -- Section 923(g)(1) is amended by adding at the end the following:

(E) Notwithstanding subparagraph (B), the Attorney General may enter during business hours the place of business of any gun show promoter and any place where a gun show is held for the purposes of examining the records required by sections 923 and 932 and the inventory of licensees conducting business at the gun show. Such entry and examination shall be conducted for the purposes of determining compliance with this chapter by gun show promoters and licensees conducting business at the gun show and shall not require a showing of reasonable cause or a warrant.'.

This language is likely to set off Second Amendment enthusiasts, but it could also impact enforcement of background-check laws like the one in Colorado.

These factors might at least partly explain Udall's reticence to embrace the Lautenberg legislation -- not to mention his willingness to take political heat on the anniversary of Columbine from the father of a young man slain at the school eleven years ago today.