After Tucson Mass Shooting, Legislation Would Close Gaps That Now Enable Criminals, the Seriously Mentally Ill and other Prohibited Purchasers to Evade Background Checks
280,000 Americans Urge Congress to Fix Gun Checks
NEW YORK, May 9, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation yesterday that would close gaps in the national gun background system that have enabled criminals and other dangerous people – including Tucson shooter Jared Loughner – to easily obtain firearms.
In the wake of the Arizona mass shooting that killed six and injured 14 others, including Rep. Gabby Giffords, President Obama called for a background check system that is "instant, accurate and comprehensive." The bill introduced yesterday would sharply increase incentives for states to report records on criminals, domestic violence misdemeanants, the seriously mentally ill and other prohibited purchasers to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The legislation would also require that all gun sellers conduct background checks on prospective buyers.
The Fix Gun Checks Act of 2011 was introduced by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy and more than two dozen other members, including Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers and Crime Subcommittee Ranking Member Bobby Scott. Senator Chuck Schumer introduced similar legislation in February.
The bill is modeled on a proposal developed after the Tucson mass shooting by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a bipartisan coalition of more than 550 mayors co-chaired by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
"We can both respect the rights of law-abiding gun owners and do a lot more to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people," Mayor Bloomberg said. "We look forward to working with the President, Congress and the 280,000 Americans who have signed a petition in support of fixing the nation's broken background check system."
Nearly three months ago, Mayors Against Illegal Guns launched the Fix Gun Checks Tour, a coast-to-coast campaign featuring a mobile billboard truck that tracks the toll of Americans who have been murdered with guns since the mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona. As of May 5, that number is just under 4,000 – more than 34 every day.
"So far, more than 275,000 Americans from coast to coast have joined our campaign to keep guns away from dangerous people," said Mayor Menino. "With legislation in both chambers of Congress, mayors and our grassroots supporters across the country will be pushing for swift action to get this common-sense legislation to President Obama for his signature. For too long, Washington has failed to fix glaring gaps in the background check system. Now we're making strides toward common-sense reform that will save innocent lives. We need to finish the job."
The flaws in the background check system are taking a particularly drastic toll on law enforcement officers. Fatal police shootings have increased by 53 percent over last year, and the vast majority of their killers were prohibited by federal law from possessing guns.
"It's simple common sense, agreed to by most Americans, that we take steps to keep the country's most dangerous people from being able to injure or kill others," said Rep. McCarthy. "Anyone concerned with the protection of public health and safety should support the Fix Gun Checks Act. Its passage could very well stop the next senseless massacre."
The Background Check System is Broken
The NICS database is designed to screen prospective gun owners to ensure that individuals who are prohibited by law from possessing guns - including criminals, the seriously mentally ill and drug abusers - cannot gain access to them. The system is missing millions of records of prohibited purchasers because of lax reporting by states and, in some instances, federal agencies. Twenty-eight states have submitted 100 or fewer mental health records to NICS.
In April 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, who had a history of serious mental illness, was able to pass a background check and buy the firearms he used to kill 32 people at Virginia Tech because records of his mental illness had never been submitted to NICS. Jared Loughner, the Tucson shooter, was disqualified from military service after he admitted that he was a habitual drug user, which should have barred him from buying firearms. The Army never submitted information about his drug abuse to the do-not-sell database.
After the Virginia Tech tragedy, Congress passed the NICS Improvement Amendment Act, which was intended to incentivize states to submit records of prohibited gun purchasers to the system. Congress, however, has chronically failed to provide enough funding for these efforts, and has not imposed significant penalties for noncompliance.
Even if the NICS system had contained the necessary records to flag Cho and Loughner as prohibited purchasers, the shooters could have easily bought their guns from a private seller. Under current federal law, all federally licensed gun dealers are required to conduct background checks on gun purchasers. But private "occasional sellers" who sell firearms at gun shows, through classified ads, in parking lots or on the Internet may sell guns without conducting checks. Private sales account for an estimated 40% of all gun sales in the United States.
The Fix Gun Checks Act: Two Simple Solutions
The Fix Gun Checks Act would take two critical steps to stop prohibited purchasers from slipping through cracks in current law.
First, the bill would impose tougher penalties on states that are not sending records of prohibited purchasers to NICS. Today, states that fail to report 50 percent of their records to the database face a 3 percent cut to their federal Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) funding. Rep. McCarthy's legislation would increase the reporting requirement to 75 percent by FY2013 and 90 percent by FY2018, with JAG funding penalties increased to 15 percent and 25 percent, respectively. In addition, federal agencies would be required to certify to the U.S. Attorney General twice every year that they have submitted all relevant records to the do-not-sell database.
Second, the Fix Gun Checks Act would require a background check for every gun sale. The bill would require private sellers to verify, either with local law enforcement or through certified gun dealers, that the person they are selling to is not a prohibited purchaser. The bill would include reasonable exceptions, including sales to law enforcement and transfers among immediate family members.
The bill's provisions enjoy overwhelming public support. A survey conducted in February for Mayors Against Illegal Guns by a team of Republican and Democratic pollsters found that 90 percent of Americans and 90 percent of gun owners support fixing gaps in government databases that are meant to prevent the mentally ill, drug abusers and other prohibited purchasers from buying guns. Also, 86 percent of Americans and 81 percent of gun owners support requiring all gun buyers to pass a background check, no matter where they buy the gun and no matter who they buy it from.
Public opinion research has shown that members of the National Rifle Association also support a more effective background check system. A December 2009 survey conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz showed that NRA members and other Americans who own guns strongly support a sensible approach to gun laws that protects personal freedoms while also keeping illegal guns out of the hands of criminals. Effective and comprehensive background checks are at the heart of that approach, with 69 percent NRA members and 85 percent of other gun owners supporting a requirement that all gun sellers at gun shows conduct criminal background checks of the people buying guns.
FixGunChecks.org Nationwide Truck Tour
The FixGunChecks.org truck started its nationwide tour in February in New York City's Times Square. The truck has since held events in Newark, NJ; Reading, PA; Philadelphia, PA; Pittsburgh, PA; Youngstown, OH; Euclid, OH; Columbus, OH; Cleveland, OH, Chicago, IL; Milwaukee, WI; Minneapolis, MN; Denver, CO; Portland, OR; Tucson, AZ; Orlando, FL; Miami, FL; Savannah, GA; Richmond, VA; and Boston, MA.
About Mayors Against Illegal Guns
Since its inception in April 2006, Mayors Against Illegal Guns has grown from 15 mayors to over 550. Mayors Against Illegal Guns has united the nation's mayors around these common goals: protecting their communities by holding gun offenders and irresponsible gun dealers accountable, demanding access to trace data that is critical to law enforcement efforts to combat illegal gun trafficking, and working with legislators to fix gaps, weaknesses and loopholes in the law that make it far too easy for criminals and other prohibited purchasers to get guns.
SOURCE Mayors Against Illegal Guns