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House Votes to Improve Background Check System

June 13, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

This morning, the House approved a which bill the AP has called “the most important gun control act since Congress banned some assault weapons in 1994, the last year Democrats controlled the House.” The bill, H.R.2640, is designed to improve state reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in order to close data gaps relating to arrest records and mental health standing. Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech gunman who killed 32 students in April, was barred from buying firearms under federal law, but slipped through the system’s cracks due to a lapse in record maintenance.

As Carolyn McCarthy (D, NY), the bill’s sponsor, explains, Cho’s case is not an isolated incident:

>According to a Third Way report, over 91% of those adjudicated for mental illness cannot be stopped by a background check due to flaws in the system. But this issue allows other barred individuals to purchase firearms. 25% of felony convictions do not make it into the NICS system.

Besides closing holes in the NICS system, the bill provides a way for people who are currently barred from purchasing firearms to have their status reviewed and changed. Lawyer David Hardy from the blog Of Arms & the Law explains how this part of the law would work:

>For me, the critical language is a couple of sections that essentially let a person who was committed at some point in their lives escape the lifetime bar that now exists. The wording is a trifle awkward at times, but as I read it, if the court that committed them makes a finding that they are not a danger any more, or the state creates an entity that can make a similar finding, they’re not a prohibited person and their name comes off the NICS list.

To read the bill language that sets up the judicial review process go to the bill page, click on “”http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:H.R.2640:“>See Full Bill Text,” and then check out SEC. 105. This part of the bill was crucial for its passage because it helped to gain the support of the immeasurably-powerful National Rifle Association. According to the NRA, they are backing the bill because:

>[it] wouldn’t expand the definition of a prohibited person. It wouldn’t disqualify anyone currently able to legally purchase a firearm. In fact, it would provide an opportunity for people who’ve been disqualified to clear their name. Right now, folks don’t have that ability. Gun owners lose nothing in the bill as it’s currently written, and in fact the bill improves the system for those who’ve been caught in the bureaucratic red tape.

The NRA insists that this is not a gun-control bill, but other influential pro-gun organizations disagree. The Gun Owners of America opposes the bill, and here’s why:

>The Post says that, under the new language, the federal government would pay (that is, spend taxpayers’ money) to help the states send more names of individual Americans to the FBI for inclusion in the background check system. If a state fails to do this, then the feds could cut various law enforcement grants to that state. In essence, this is a restatement of what the original McCarthy bill does. The states will be bribed (again, with your money) to send more names, many of them innocent gun owners, to the FBI in West Virginia — and perhaps lots of other personal information on you as well.

The bill will have to be passed by the Senate and signed by the President before it becomes law. The NRA has already threatened to withdraw its support if it is amended by Senate “anti-gunners” in a way that makes it a gun-control bill in their eyes.

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