Republican US Senate candidate Michael J. Sullivan, who previously held the nation’s top post regulating firearms, said at a live debate Friday night that he would vote against the current measure being negotiated on Capitol Hill that would expand background checks for gun sales.
Sullivan was the only one of the Republican candidates at the WFXT-TV (Channel 25) forum to voice opposition to the measure. His rivals in the April 30 primary, state Representative Daniel B. Winslow and Cohasset businessman Gabriel E. Gomez, said they would support the checks.
The measure now before the Senate aims to close the loophole by requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales, including those at gun shows and over the Internet, while leaving exempt private transfers among family and friends.
But Sullivan, the former acting director of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, said the legislation would not avert tragedies like the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December.
A background check could show that the buyer is a felon, but it would not necessarily disclose whether that person has been ruled mentally unfit to own a gun, he said.
“There’s no record, there’s no database for the people that are adjudicated mentally ill,” said Sullivan.
But Winslow pointed out that the measure now being debated in Washington does aim to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill by encouraging states and doctors to report people unfit to own guns to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System . Privacy concerns have stopped many states and doctors from doing that reporting.
That “brings Massachusetts and the other minority of states that don’t participate in the mental health reporting back into that fold,” Winslow said. “That’s a key part of this new compromise.”
But Sullivan maintained that it would not be effective. He also said the effort to close the gun show exception is misguided because “there’s no such thing as a gun show loophole.”
“If there’s anything in terms of a loophole, it’s the secondary market loophole,” Sullivan said. “Some guns are sold in gun shows. Some are sold at flea markets. Some are private transactions. Massachusetts requires a background check for every transaction.”
“I respectfully disagree,” said Gomez. “You go to certain states, you can go to a gun show, and you can get a weapon bought without a background check.”
“You can get in a parking lot and get a weapon bought without a background check,” Sullivan countered. “And this bill doesn’t do anything about that.”
Winslow said he considers it a matter of fairness to require that all commercial gun sales follow the same rules as retailers.
In a WBZ/Boston Globe debate Wednesday, Sullivan repeatedly dodged Winslow’s question on how he would vote on the controversial gun control measure.
The Springfield Republican/Masslive.com reported Tuesday that Sullivan had been paid by the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The trade group for the firearms industry is in Newtown, the site of the elementary school shootings that galvanized a renewed push by the White House for increased gun control.
Sullivan has been providing legal counsel to the shooting foundation since 2011, but has never lobbied for the organization, its general counsel, Larry Keane, said in a statement. He gave an example of Sullivan intervening with the Mexican government, which had threatened to sue the United States over criminal misuse of firearms in Mexico.
Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at ebbertglobe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.