UPDATED: Congress Takes Action on Guns and Mental Health in the Aftermath of Sandy Hook

Blog Post by: , on January 29, 2013

Gun control has become a politically charged issue at every level of American government since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 14, 2012. Here is a look at some of the holistic legislative measures that have been proposed since the beginning of the 113th Congress. These bills not only attempt to strengthen gun control, but also look to address several public health concerns that have swirled around the firearm debate. This page will be updated on a regular basis as more bills are proposed and move through the legislative process.

UPDATE: January 30, 2013

12:31pm EST: Senator Lee (R-UT) asks Professor Kopel what average citizens use high-capacity magazines (100 bullet drums) for in everyday use. Kopel says self-defense, target shooting. 

12:25pm EST: Chief of Police Johnson is bringing up strategic concerns that are involved in having teachers carry guns. Johnson is an important witness - can speak to how difficult carrying a firearm responsibly can be. 

12:16pm EST: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is highlighting the truth on federal gun crimes. 11,000 (real number) is a lot more than 62 (number others threw out earlier in the hearing). 

12:10pm EST: Senator Graham (R-SC) up now. He is speaking on high capacity magazines. He advocates for putting armed guards in school. 

12:07pm EST: Professor Kopel of Denver University is attempting to "rationalize" 100 bullet drum, according to Senator Durbin. Senator Durbin asks why the professor does not want to bring machine guns back. Professor replies because they are not used by law abiding citizens. 

12:01pm EST: Senator Durbin bringing up important points about gun trafficking in the U.S. He speaks about guns coming from Mississippi to Illinois and killing people in Chicago. He praises Senators for going after straw purchasers. 

12:00pm EST: Senator Durbin tells LaPierre he misses the point. Criminals won't go to get guns if there are background exams, thus keeping the guns out of hands of criminals. 

11:56am EST: LaPierre insists again that criminals don't cooperate with background exams. He fails to acknowledge the 1.7 million that have been unable to get guns because of background exams. 

11:53am EST: Kelly: Loughner was a drug user, asked to leave community college due to mental illness. "He was a criminal, but because of gaps in mental health system" he slipped through the cracks. Kelly says if we close gun show loophole we "will prevent crime."

11:48am EST: Senator Conryn talks about mental "outpatient" treatment and where this fits in background exams. Very interesting point. 

11:46am EST: Schumer insists that in his bill (yet to be introduced) there will be NO national gun registry. He says a registry is illegal. 

11:42am EST: Schumer calls for universal background exams before purchase of guns. He wants to focus on background exams, not prosecution after, as others have suggested is the problem in this hearing. We need to improve the system, especially mental health records to NICS. 

11:35am EST: Senator Chuck Schumer follows Senator Jeff Sessions now. Senator Sessions spoke about his support for "straw purchase" laws, but agreed with LaPierre that locking up criminals was the best way to curb gun violence. 

11:28am EST: Chief Johns believes that Assault Weapons Ban, President's Executive Orders, better background exams, and banning high capacity magazines will curtail firearm violence. 

11:26am EST: Chief Johnson points out that guns in Newtown were not "stolen" but were accessible to Lanza. He applauds Feinstein for putting "safety" measures in new Assault Weapons Ban. 

11:23am EST: Gayle Trotter says a "scary looking gun" makes a woman more comfortable when under attack. 

11:17am EST: Chuck Grassley brings up some people's insistance that it is more important to help the mentally ill than to work on gun control. He then asks Johnson about mental illness. Johnson says it is a major problem in the United States and that a comprehensive background check will make the nation safer, as will banning high capacity magazines. 

11:15am EST: Johnson claims 2013 AWB will be as ineffectual as the 1994 AWB. He says that naming guns is the problem with the bill, these outlaws are done on cosmetics, not on firepower. 

11:13am EST: Leahy: Two million convicted criminals were denied guns through background exam. Should we have mandatory background checks at gun shows? LaPierre: We support NICS on dealers. I do not believe the way the law is working now that it does any good to extend the law to private sales to lobbyists and collectors. 

11:11am EST: Leahy: Should be prosecute those who help criminals get guns? LaPierre: If it is in strawman sale, yes. 

11:09am EST: Mark Kelly: Loughner could have been stopped if background exams were improved. Criminals, terrorists, and mentally ill can be stopped from getting a gun if "gun show loophole" is closed and background exams are improved. 

11:07am EST: Johnson: Statistics show that females are killed over 50% of the time by a family member. 500% increase a female will be killed by domestic violence in a house with a gun. 

11:05am EST: Senator Leahy asks Chief Johnson to speak to the usefulness of "straw purchaser" law he proposed early this month. 

11:04am EST: LaPierre suggests we protect kids, punish criminals, and improve mental health to solve firearm problem in the United States. 

11:03am EST: "Background checks will never be universal because criminals will never submit to them." - Wayne LaPierre

11:02am EST: LaPierre speaks about mental health and the dearth of mental health records in the National Instant Check System. 

11:01am EST: LaPierre says we need to "throw an immediate blanket of security" over our schools in order to protect children. He calls for a nation wide plan to protect schools. 

10:59am EST: LaPierre: NRA has "long and proud" history of being "honest" about what works / what doesn't work in gun control. 

10:58am EST: Wayne LaPierre, Vice President of NRA, testifying now. 

10:56am EST: Trotter says, "Armed security works." She claims a link between concealed carry laws and lower prevalence of rape. 

10:54am EST: Gayle Trotter of Independent Women's Forum is speaking now. She begins with story of McKinley, claiming "guns make women safer."

10:53am EST: Johnson points to the effectiveness of 1994 Assault Weapons Ban in Virginia and calls for the Assault Weapons Ban to be passed again along with improved background checks and a ban on high capacity magazines.  

10:51am EST: National background check system is already running, so it will be easy to implement a full overhaul, says Johnson. He claims Virginia Tech could have been halted if background check had gone completely through NICS system. 

10:48am EST: James Johnson says firearms were leading cause of death for police in 2011 for the first time ever in the US. He is Chief of Police in Baltimore, MD. He calls on Congress to limit high capacity magazines and declares his support for Feinstein's Assault Weapons Ban (2013). 

10:46am EST: Johnson says that lawful concealed carry in school is the only way to protect our children. "Armed defense" in schools is the only way. 

10:44am EST: Johnson says that gun registration leads to confiscation and claims that the UK proves that confiscation does not lead to less "violent crime." He admits, however, that universal background checks should be available. However, he does not believe that it should be mandatory because of necessary registration that will lead to confiscation, by his account. 

10:41am EST: Nicholas Johnson speaking now. He is ripping on the old Assault Weapons Ban, calls it "mistakenly passed" and based on "cosmetics" rather than firepower. 

10:37am EST: Both Kelly and Giffords are gun owners, says Kelly. He hopes that Congress will help the CDC begin research again, speak to the "lethality" of guns bought and sold in the country, and work on ending trafficking within the country. 

10:35am EST: Kelly recounts how 33 bullets, resulting in 33 wounds, were fired in less than 15 seconds by Jared Lee Loughner in the event that maimed Congresswoman Giffords. Loughner had never been reported to mental health authorities, and even if he did, Arizona's screening was extremely backed up and unreliable. 

10:33am EST: Kelly looking forward to "constructive" debate about gun control. 

10:32am EST: After a long "defense" of individual rights by Senator Grassley, Captain Mark Kelly is ready to testify before the committee. 

10:26am EST: Grassley goes on to say that he does not believe guns should be banned on "appearance" nor does he think that the focus on "high capacity magazines" is useful. He claims that Assault Weapons Ban in 1994 was not successful. 

10:25am EST: Senator Grassley begins speaking about the horrors of gun violence, but also says the approach needs to be more holistic than just gun control measures. He speaks about  mental health, video games, and media noting that all these avenues have to be addressed alongside gun control. 

10:21am EST: Leahy asks for bipartisan support for increased background exams, closure of the "fire sale" loophole. He also mentions the firearm trafficking bill introduced by Senators Gillibrand (D-NY) and Senator Kird (R-IL) that he believes will become part of our federal framework. Here is a link to a YouTube video by Senator Kirk on that proposal: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEpvNPo00mk&noredirect=1

10:18am EST:  Leahy says Second Amendment "secures a fundamental, individual right" which "no one can take away." However, he said everyone should have to go through a background exam, just like he has to in Vermont. 

10:17am EST: Senator Leahy begins the hearing recounting recent mass shooting events in Aurora, Sandy Hook, and elsewhere. He gives a brief background over what will be discussed at the hearing while asking for nonpartisan, honest discourse. 

10:15am EST: Giffords says "too many children are dying" and the "time is now" for gun control measures. She urges Congress to "be bold" before she leaves the hearing room accompanied by her husband, Mark Kelly, who will testify later in the hearing. 

10:10am EST: As the gavel rings, a camera shot shows that Mark Kelly is in the presence of his wife, Gabrielle Giffords who was shot at point blank range by a gunman at a town hall in Tuscon, Arizona in 2011. She is set to give an opening statement now. 

9:55am EST: The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin its first hearing from 2013 on gun control in just a few minutes. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is the Chairman of the committee while Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is the Ranking Member. Mark Kelly, the husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, will be a witness today, as will Wayne LaPierre of the NRA. Also set to testify are Chief of Police James Johnson of Baltimore, Nicholas Johnson of Fordham University Law, and Gayle Trotter of the Independent Women's Forum.  

UPDATE: January 29, 2013

Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing entitled “What Should America Do about Gun Violence?” The hearing will be webcast here. Witnesses include Mark Kelly, the husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and Wayne LaPierre, Vice President of the NRA.  The Blog of the Century will cover live updates during the committee hearing tomorrow on this page.

In the meantime, here are a few other legislative efforts that may be discussed during these hearings.

Fire Sale Loophole Closing Act

Congressman David N. Cicilline of Rhode Island introduced a bill that aims to close what has become known as the “fire sale loophole.” Under this gap in the law, many gun dealers who have their license for firearm sales revoked are able to declare their guns “personal sales” and continue to sell at gun shows, where background exams are not required. Although this loophole amounts for a small amount of firearm sales, it would eliminate a dangerous exception.

Buyback Our Safety Act

Introduced by Congressman Deutch (D-FL) with eight co-sponsors, this bill would create a framework for a gun buyback program in the United States. Those following along will remember that after the Port Arthur Massacre in Australia, the country engaged in a massive gun buyback program that has been hailed as a great success in years since.

This bill, referred to the House Judiciary Committee, calls for the Attorney General to work alongside states to establish this program. As of now, it is proposed that the Attorney General’s office would establish grants to fund these programs in states that wanted to opt-in.

Handgun Licensing and Registration Act of 2013

Representatives Holt and Doyle have put forth a bill calling on the Attorney General to establish a system to register all handguns with the federal government. This piece of legislation is interesting because although handguns have been rarely mentioned in the arguments for more gun control, they do account for a majority of firearm deaths. 

UPDATE: JANUARY 25, 2013

2013 Assault Weapons Ban

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) introduced the 2013 Assault Weapons Ban before the United States Senate on January 24 alongside seventeen Democrat co-sponsors. These Senators held an emotional press conference with victims of gun violence from across the country and hailed this bill as a significant improvement over the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, for several reasons.

First, the 2013 Assault Weapons ban would not “sunset,” as the first iteration did in 2004. Under this new legislation, over 150 specific firearms would be banned from “sale, transfer, manufacture, or importation”; the original ban only outlawed 18 specific models.

Next, instead of the two-characteristic test used in the 1994 legislation, Feinstein’s new bill places a ban on any semi-automatic rifle/pistol that (1) takes a detachable magazine and (2) has ONE military feature. The bill also outlaws several weapons modifications (slide fire stocks, bullet buttons, and thumbhole stocks) that can be used to increase firing rate or capacity after firearms are sold. Perhaps most importantly, if this legislation was passed, it would outlaw the sale and import any magazine that can accept more than ten rounds of ammunition.

The 2013 Assault Weapons Ban would grandfather-in any gun owned at the time of the bill’s passage, but would require that these guns be held to safe-storage requirements. If a grandfathered weapon is to be transferred or sold, a background check will be required. The bill would exclude 2,258 “legitimate hunting and sporting rifles and shotguns.”

In reality, this bill has little chance of making it out of the Senate and stands virtually no chance of passage in the House of Representatives. Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid has been clear about his lack of an appetite for pushing these measures through the Senate, already seeming to have mid-term elections on his mind.

Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced the Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act on January 22. This bill would attempt to curtail “straw purchase” of guns, the act by which an individual buys a gun for someone who cannot obtain one legally, by strengthening law enforcement’s ability to pursue these cases. The bill would also increase the punishment for those who intend to engage in this activity.

Firearm Safety and Public Health Research Act of 2013

Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced this bill before the House of Representatives on January 18 with thirty-five co-sponsors. This bill would strengthen and “codify” the Obama administration’s Executive Orders ending the moratorium on firearm-related health research at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institute of Health (NIH).

No firearms research has been engaged by either of these institutions since 1996, when the Representative Jay Dickey (R-AK) attached an amendment to the CDC appropriation reading, “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” To drive home his point, Dickey and fellow representatives rescinded $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget—the same amount of money it had spent on firearm research the year prior.

Both President Obama’s Executive Order and Representative Maloney’s bill look to ensure that the CDC, NIH, and other government agencies can conduct firearms research. Perhaps, with proper scientific evidence, safety measures can be developed to save lives. Since the government began researching  motor vehicle safety, deaths in motor vehicle accidents have fallen. In fact, death by firearms will soon outpace deaths from motor vehicle accidents for the first time in United States’ history.

Legislation on Studying Violence in Video Games and Media

Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced a bill that would require the National Academy of Sciences to analyze and investigate the role that violent video games and video programming have on children. This bill was introduced alongside Republican Senators Tom Coburn, Dean Heller, and Mike Johanns. It has been referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Anti-Gun Trafficking Legislation

This bill has yet to be introduced, but it will be the first example of two Senators teaming up to close gun-sales loopholes, Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) and Senator Kirk (R-IL). Senator Gillibrand has worked tirelessly on this issue, as 85 percent of guns in New York State come from outside state lines. Gillibrand says this law will give “law enforcement the tools they need” to address gun trafficking in the United States.

Strengthening Background Checks

Senator Joe Manchin has been viewed as a bellwether for how gun-control measures would proceed in Congress. Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, has an “A” rating from the NRA and has been a strong supporter of gun rights throughout his time in politics.

On talk-radio on January 24, Senator Manchin stated that he was working with both Republican and Democratic Senators to develop legislation that would make background checks more common and strengthen legislation that is already on the books. Although Manchin says there would be exceptions (for family members and sporting events), he expressed his support for closing the “gun-show loophole,” calling it “common sense” that if a “legitimate” gun dealer has to perform background exams, so too should those who sell guns at other locations.

Manchin also said that he was working with the NRA, an avenue that Rep. Maloney has also pursued, according to the Washington Post. These steps may seem insignificant in the wake of such heated debate about gun control, but increasing and strengthening background checks is the most effective way to bring about improved firearm safety. These statements, and future legislation, by Senator Manchin will help buoy support for increased background checks included in President Obama’s Executive Orders on gun control.

Check out The Century Foundation’s past coverage of worldwide firearm distribution and murder rates.  Click here for an analysis of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, a timeline of international and domestic mass shootings, and the action that countries have taken in the aftermath of these events.

Photo: Ron Frank / Shutterstock.com

Tags: postel, guns,

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