Republicans stack on mental health background check bill

Senators John Cornyn and John McCain

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, right, accompanied by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 26, 2012, to assert that President Obama’s administration has orchestrated disclosure of classified information for political gain. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

GOP senators started putting their weight behind a bill this week the party is sure will help fix the federal background check system on firearms purchases in the country by incentivizing states to report potentially dangerous, mentally-ill people, according to the bill’s sponsor, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.

The bill, backed by the National Rifle Association, represents claims made by conservative politicians and gun rights advocates that the solution to mass shootings isn’t in an expansion of the background system, but in states’ reporting their mental health records to that system.    

The Texas senator introduced the bill, S. 2002: “Mental Health and Safe Communities Act of 2015” in August, and on Tuesday received support from Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts and Sen. Roy Blunt from Missouri. On Monday, Sens. Michael Crapo, Idaho,  John McCain, Arizona, Dean Heller, Nevada, Bill Cassidy, Louisiana, and GOP presidential candidate Lindsey Graham from South Carolina also backed the bill.

Also supporting the bill is the National Alliance on Mental Health, who applauded an amendment proposal in the bill clarifying terminology from the 1968 Gun Control Act the group deems offensive. In the bill, those defined as “persons adjudicated as mentally defective” will be referred to “persons adjudicated as incompetent.”

Opponents of the bill also want to see guns kept out of the hands of the mentally ill, but argue the bill will do the exact opposite.

Under current federal law, those individuals who have been involuntarily committed to mental institutions or otherwise found to be incompetent cannot posses a firearm for life. Under the law, voluntary commitments are exempt and the right to purchase and possess a firearm can be reinstated by a court.

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence argues that under S. 2002, a mentally ill person would be able to purchase a firearm as soon as they are discharged from a treatment facility, as they’re record would be expunged from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.

“S. 2002 would not have prevented mass shooters like Dylann Roof, Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez and John Russell Houser from walking into a gun store, passing a background check, and obtaining a firearm,” said CSGV Director of Communications Ladd Everitt.

Also in opposition of the bill, but for a different reason, was the National Association for Gun Rights, who claimed the bill would only increase gun control.

“Details are still emerging, but this proposal would coerce states to hand over your private medical records to the Federal Government,” reads a fundraiser broadcasted across NAGR’s media accounts. “John Cornyn is ready to surrender more Americans to the anti-gun media and Barack Obama instead of getting rid of the broken and unconstitutional Brady Registration system with recent evidence of its catastrophic failures.”

The Center for American Progress put out its analysis of the bill, saying it would weaken current law preventing the mentally ill and veterans deemed incompetent from purchasing firearms.

“Senator Cornyn would make it easier, not harder for seriously mentally ill people to access guns,” said Arkadi Gerney, a gun policy expert for the liberal Center for American Progress.

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