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Congress Passes its First Gun Bill

December 21, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

Just before adjourning for the holidays Congress finalized the passage of the first bill relating to one of the most politically-charged issues of the day: gun control. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) first introduced the NICS Improvement Amendments Act in 2002 and its passage in the 110th Congress stems in large part from the shootings at Virginia Tech in April. The bill seeks to strengthen the background check system designed to keep those who are mentally unfit from acquiring firearms while also putting in place a system of appeals for individuals to try to get the prohibition against them dropped.

Click here for McCarthy’s Huffington Post piece from June explaining why the background check system needs upgrading.

Because of some changes it would make to the often-loathed National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the National Riffle Association (NRA) has backed the bill since it’s introduction. Here’s some background they provided in August:

>In the late 1990s, gun buyers often experienced ridiculous delays while NICS sorted through cases of mistaken identity or incomplete police records. Many purchasers were wrongly denied and forced to go through a cumbersome appeals process. At the same time, state officials testified before Congress about woefully incomplete records they provide to NICS—a problem confirmed in recent reports by the U.S. Department of Justice.
>H.R. 2640, like similar bills introduced since 2002, was meant to address those problems. State and federal agencies would supply updated records and would also have to remove incorrect records or records that no longer apply—for instance, when a person has an old criminal conviction expunged by a state judge.
>More accurate records would mean fewer wrongful delays and denials. More honest citizens would be able to exercise their right to arms, while potentially dangerous people could be screened out more effectively. There’s just no sound reason to let the system be as incomplete as it’s been for the past nine years.

But several gun-control groups are critical of the bill, arguing that it has been hijacked by the gun lobby (aka NRA) and wastes taxpayer money to actually weaken the NICS:

>[The bill would] resuscitate a failed government program that spent millions of dollars annually to allow persons prohibited from buying guns to regain the ability to legally acquire firearms. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) would be required to establish a “relief from disability” program to allow persons now prohibited from possessing a firearm because they have “been adjudicated as a mental defective” or “committed to a mental institution” to apply to have their bar on firearms possession removed. As a result of the bill, more than 116,000 individuals would be eligible to apply.
>The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) used to run a similar program that, in addition to those with mental disabilities, even allowed felons to apply for “relief.” Annual costs for the ATF program ballooned to more than $4 million in 1991, with an average cost of $4,800 per applicant and 43 full-time employees dedicated to processing the applications. Congress shut down the ATF program in 1992 because of its high cost, inefficiency, and threat to public safety. Under the bill, states would also be required to establish such “relief” programs to restore the gun privileges of those with mental health disabilities in order to be eligible for potential grant money to upgrade records submitted to the NICS.

The bill now goes to President Bush, who has not indicated whether he will sign or veto it.

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