After Virginia Tech Shootings, House Passes Bill To Strengthen National Background Check System
WASHINGTON, June 13, 2007
After 52 years in Congress, John Dinge knows it sometimes takes a "rather curious alliance," such as between the National Rifle Association and the House's most fervent gun control advocate, to move legislation.
That's what took place Wednesday when the House, by voice vote, passed a gun control bill that Rep. Dingell, D-Mich., helped broker between the NRA and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y.
With the NRA on board, the bill, which fixes flaws in the national gun background check system that allowed the Virginia Tech shooter to buy guns despite his mental health problems, has a good chance of becoming the first major gun control law in more than a decade.
"We’ll work with anyone, if you protect the rights of law-abiding people under the second amendment and you target people that shouldn't have guns," NRA chief Wayne LaPierre told CBS News Correspondent Sheryl Atkisson
"As the Virginia Tech shooting reminded us, there is an urgent national need to improve the background check system" to keep guns out of the hands of those barred from buying them, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
The measure would require states to automate their lists of convicted criminals and the mentally ill who are prohibited under a 1968 law from buying firearms, and report those lists to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.
Seung-Hui Cho, who in April killed 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech before taking his own life, had been ordered to undergo outpatient mental health treatment and should have been barred from buying the two guns he used in the rampage. But the state of Virginia never forwarded this information to the national background check system.
The House action came as a panel ordered by President Bush to investigate the Virginia Tech shootings issued its findings, including a recommendation that legal and financial barriers to NICS submissions be addressed.
Mr. Bush, in a statement, said the report made clear that better information sharing between federal and state authorities "is essential in helping to keep guns out of the wrong hands and to punish those who break the law." He said he was "closely following legislative efforts to strengthen the instant background check system."
The panel also urged federal agencies to expand programs to prevent school violence and said the Health and Human Services Department should focus on college students in its mental health public education campaign.
Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said the report disclosed "the deep complexities of the issues facing college campuses today" and would advance government scrutiny of issues related to safety vs. personal freedoms.
The House bill next moves to the Senate, where gun control advocate Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., says he is talking to NRA ally Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and there is a "very strong" chance of passage.
"When the NRA and I agree on legislation, you know that it's going to get through, become law and do some good," says Schumer.
The legislation requires state and federal agencies to transmit all relevant disqualifying records to the NICS database. It also provides $250 million a year over the next three years to help states meet those goals and it imposes penalties — including cuts in federal grants under an anti-crime law — on states that fail to meet benchmarks for automating their systems and supplying information to the NICS.
Virginia's Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine said Wednesday that in ordering state executive branch agencies to upgrade background check reporting last month he found that Virginia was one of only 22 states reporting any mental health information to the NICS. He said the House bill was “significant action to honor the memories of the victims who lost their lives at Virginia Tech.”