House Democrats introduce new gun-control bill focusing on mental health
posted at 6:51 pm on May 30, 2014 by Erika Johnsen
The tragedy in Isla Vista, California last Friday that resulted in the deaths of six people via both shooting and stabbing has resurrected many of the usual calls for Congress to Do Something by advocating for more gun control, and last night, the House did come together to pass a small but fairly uncontroversial Something in the way of better funding for the country’s criminal background check system:
The amendment, which passed in a floor vote by 260 to 145, was attached to a 2015 appropriations bill by California Rep. Mike Thompson, a Democrat, along with three Republican co-sponsors – Reps. Peter King (R-N.Y.), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), and Joe Heck (R-Nev.) – and Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.). …
If signed into law, the amendment would increase funding for the criminal background checks system by $19.5 million – raising the total funding level for the program to $78 million – to help ensure states have the necessary resources to submit additional records of prohibited firearm purchasers to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. …
“It will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and make us all safer, but we need to do more,” Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement Thursday night. “Congress needs to listen to the American public and expand federal background checks to include guns sold online and at gun shows so that any improvement to the background check system applies to all commercial gun sales.”
Bolstering our already-existing background checks system as the House just did is all well and good, but what is this “more” that needs to be done to which the Brady Campaign keeps referring? How would expanding the system to guns sold online and at gun shows have done anything in the slightest to prevent the heinous crime in Isla Vista?
The short answer, of course, is that it wouldn’t have, but a handful of House Democrats are hoping to keep pushing the gun-control issue by incorporating more mental-health criteria into the existing prohibitions on people who can have guns:
Sponsored by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), the measure would expand the list of people prohibited from buying or possessing guns to include a broader swath of mental health patients and convicted criminals. …
The Democrats’ bill would expand the federal prohibition on gun sales to include those convicted of misdemeanor stalking, as well as those receiving involuntary mental health services on an outpatient basis, if a court deems them dangerous. The current ban applies largely to those committed on an inpatient basis.
The proposal would also provide states grant money to help local authorities bolster gun-violence prevention programs. One such effort, the Democrats suggest, would be to empower police to seek warrants to seize firearms from those they believe might use them to harm themselves or others. …
It’s unclear if the bill’s measures could have prevented the recent Santa Barbara shooting — something even the Democrats acknowledge.
But that, Thompson said Friday, “is no excuse not to try to do what we can do.”
Actually, the fact that the bill would likely do nothing to prevent the type of mass shootings that it hopes to eradicate is kind of an excellent reason not to enact it. I haven’t looked at the specifics of their proposal yet, but I don’t see this bill gaining much traction as-is with the rest of the House for a few reasons, not the least of which is that trying to regulate firearms possession based on mental health issues can be a tricky and slippery slope. It might make sense for people that a court has specifically deemed dangerous, but as Charles C.W. Cooke at NRO and Jacob Sullum at Reason have both elucidated in excellent pieces, legislating crazy is a tough business: Neither the Isla Vista shooter’s neighbors, relatives, and therapists nor the police definitively picked up on his homicidal intent ahead of time. As Sullum puts it, there are any number of depressed, lonely, and alienated people in the world, and almost none of them do anything like what he did.