As the author of the NICS Improvement Act, I must take issue with Mr. Sugarmann's criticisms of my legislation. After Virginia Tech, the public took a long overdue look at the failings of our current background check system. What they found was staggering. Hundreds of thousands of disqualified individuals slipping through the cracks to purchase guns legally with no questions asked.
Because of the Virginia Tech shooter's personal history, much of the focus was put on the rights of the mentally ill to own firearms. And while I strongly believe those who have been adjudicated mentally defective by a judge should be included in the NICS system, we should also remember that half of the states have submitted less than 60% of their felony convictions into the NICS system and a third of those served with a restraining order stemming from domestic violence are also excluded from the NICS database.
This legislation does include a reinstatement process for those disqualified from owning a gun because of a mental adjudication. It is important to point out that any reinstatement procedure must take in an adversarial due process setting before a judge. A doctor's note cannot restore the gun rights of someone who has been mentally adjudicated. In fact, the process for regaining gun rights will be as rigorous as being placed in the NICS system.
Mr. Sugarmann also points out that veterans placed in the NICS system by the Veterans Administration will be removed from the database. This is simply because the VA's guidelines for placing veterans on the NICS list are not consistent with that of the Department of Justice (DOJ), who administers the database. Many veterans lost their gun rights for simply seeking counseling for depression or another non-violent condition related to their military service. The DOJ only places mentally ill individuals into NICS if they have been adjudicated a threat by a judge.
The author must also consider the political realities of Washington. Despite the efforts of Mr. Sugarmann and many others, the National Rifle Association still wields tremendous influence in the halls of Congress and their blessing is required for any bill that enforces or creates gun laws. This bill is the only vehicle that could have passed the House and ensured that hundreds of thousands of convicted felons, spousal abusers, and mentally ill individuals would be unable to purchase a gun legally. Will a few existing disqualified individuals slip through the cracks? Unfortunately, yes, but once this measure becomes law, fewer and fewer new offenders will be able to buy guns because of a NICS loophole.
In listing the three anti-gun violence organizations that have reservations about my bill, Mr. Sugarmann inadvertently addresses why the NRA has such power while the efforts of organizations working to prevent gun violence have been futile for close to a decade. The NRA is consolidated into a single cohesive unit, but the groups working for common sense gun laws are many and each possess their own agenda and points of view. Only when these groups join forces for common legislative goals will we be able to prevail not only in the halls of Congress, but in state legislatures and city halls across the country as well.
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