In June, in the wake of the Virginia Tech mass shooting, newspapers across the country hailed a "compromise" bill that would supposedly increase the number of records submitted to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the database utilized by the Brady background check system when guns are purchased from a gun dealer. In a deal brokered by former NRA-board member Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) and blessed by the National Rifle Association, a bill introduced earlier this year by gun control advocate Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) to improve the NICS was modified at the last minute and passed by the House with much fanfare and little outside analysis.
In the press, the bill was hailed as a gun control victory. The NRA was quick to tell its members -- and anyone who would listen -- that the bill was actually a pro-gun bill. As NRA head Wayne LaPierre wrote in a June 13, 2007 blog titled "Not a Gun Control Bill" --
"There's been a lot of confusion and questions surrounding NRA's position on a NICS improvement bill that's being written in Congress. Part of the confusion comes from the fact that the anti-gun media is portraying this as a `gun-control' bill. Let me make it clear: It's not.
"The NICS bill, as written, 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."
This was followed three days later by a second blog, "Not a Gun Control Bill, Part 2." In it, he criticized CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric's characterization of the bill, stating:
"Couric called the bill `the first major gun-control bill in over a decade.' That's baloney. This bill improves the accuracy of the NICS system, while allowing people who've been denied their right to own a firearm to get their rights restored. If anything, this bill's going to lead to MORE law-abiding gun owners, not less."
LaPierre's palpable frustration is understandable, because a closer look at the NRA-added sections raises strong concerns. So strong, that yesterday three national gun violence prevention organizations -- the Violence Policy Center (which I head), the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and the Legal Community Against Violence -- issued a press release voicing them. In the release, the three groups state that while they "strongly support the bill's goal of improving the mechanism by which mental health and other records are added to the NICS, they are concerned that components of the bill would create new loopholes for potentially dangerous individuals to possess firearms." In the release, the groups cite three key changes made to the original McCarthy bill:
As Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Legal Community Against Violence, states in the release, "The bill's original intent, to increase reporting of state records to the NICS database, is an important objective that would improve enforcement of federal laws governing persons prohibited from possessing firearms. The amendments proposed by the NRA risk undermining those laws, and we call on the Congress to have a full debate on the merits of this legislation."