Barrasso pointed out that he was “the first Republican senator to meet with the families [of Newtown, Connecticut],” but explained that he opposed the background check amendment because he knew the government wouldn’t enforce it anyway:
We have one [background check ] law on the books right now. Under both President Bush and President Obama, they have completely failed. 44,000 in 2010, 44,000 felons and fugitives were caught trying to buy guns through a background check and only 40 of them were prosecuted. Less than 1%. It’s a failure of both the Bush administration and the Obama administration. [...]
The [background check system] that we have now they are not implementing and not enforcing. What makes you think they will enforce one that does more checks on more people?
In reality, from 1999 to 2009, 1.8 million people were blocked from purchasing guns after failing a background check and federal firearm prosecutions has remained steady, varying by no more than 5 percent each year, according to Department of Justice data.
Republicans and the NRA specifically cherry pick prosecutions for background checks to imply that the Obama administration has stopped enforcing existing law, though it has gone after gun-related crimes at the same rate as its predecessors. Law enforcement officials often see these cases as a poor use of resources because prosecutors must prove that “the person knew they were lying when they tried to purchase the firearm” in order to secure a conviction which “usually carries a maximum sentence of just six months.”