Last week, when the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H.R. 2640, "The NICS Improvement Amendments Act," by a voice vote, some gun owners were confused as to the exact scope and effect of this proactive reform bill. Let’s look at the facts.
H.R. 2640 provides federal funds to states to update their mental health records, to ensure that those currently prohibited under federal law from owning a gun because of mental health adjudications are included in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). For many years, NRA has supported ensuring that those who have been adjudicated mentally incompetent are screened by the NICS.
In several ways this bill is better for gun owners than current law. Under H.R. 2640, certain types of mental health orders will no longer prohibit a person from possessing or receiving a firearm. Examples are adjudications that have expired or been removed, or commitments from which a person has been completely released with no further supervision required. Also excluded are federal decisions about a person’s mental health that consist only of a medical diagnosis, without a specific finding that the person is dangerous or mentally incompetent. The latter provision addresses very real concerns about disability decisions by the Veterans Administration concerning our brave men and women in uniform. Remember that one of the Clinton Administration’s last acts was to force the names of almost 90,000 veterans and veterans’ family members to be added to a "prohibited" list. H.R. 2640 would help many of these people get their rights restored. H.R. 2640 will also require all participating federal or state agencies to establish "relief from disability" programs that would allow a person to get the mental health prohibition removed, either administratively or in court. This type of relief has not been available at the federal level for the past 15 years.
This legislation will also ensure—as a permanent part of federal law—that no fee or tax is associated with a NICS check¾a NRA priority for nearly a decade! While NRA has supported annual appropriations amendments with the same effect, those amendments must be renewed every year. This provision would not expire. H.R. 2640 will also mandate an audit of past spending on NICS projects to determine if funds were misused in any way.
It is also important to note what H.R. 2640 will not do. This bill will not add any new classes of prohibited persons to NICS, and it will not prohibit gun possession by people who have voluntarily sought psychological counseling or checked themselves into a hospital for treatment.
So why the confusion?
First and foremost, the national media elite is irate that NRA has been able to roll back significant portions of the Clinton Administration`s anti-gun agenda and pass pro-active legislation in Congress and in many states. They are desperate to put a "gun control" spin on anything they can. The only real question here is¾given the media`s long-standing and flagrant bias on the gun issue¾why are some gun owners suddenly swallowing the bait?
Second, some people simply do not like the NICS. In 1993, Congress passed the Brady Act, including a mandatory five-day waiting period, over strong NRA opposition. Due to NRA’s insistence, that waiting period was allowed to sunset in 1998, once the NICS was up and running nationwide. Now that the NICS is in place, it makes sense to ensure that this system works as instantly, fairly, and accurately as possible.
Also troubling to many is the fact that Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) is a cosponsor of the bill. Carolyn McCarthy is among the most anti-gun Members of Congress. She has introduced another bill, H.R. 1022, which represents the most sweeping gun ban in history. But Rep. McCarthy is not the only co-sponsor of H.R. 2640. She was joined by some of the most pro-gun members of the House of Representatives in crafting this bill, including John Dingell (D-Mich.), Rick Boucher (D-Va.), and Lamar Smith (R-Tex.). A few years ago, when Congress passed a bill allowing airline pilots to be armed, one of the lead sponsors was anti-gun Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.). Sen. Boxer’s support of that legislation did not cause gun owners to oppose it.
Finally, some people have asked why the bill passed on a voice vote. The reality is that there’s nothing unusual about passing a widely supported bill by voice vote. Even so, the House rules allow any House member to request a recorded vote on any issue, and in practice, those requests are universally granted. Despite having that option on the floor, no representative asked for a roll call on this bill.
H.R. 2640 is now pending in the Senate. Rest assured that if the anti-gunners use this legislation as a vehicle to advance gun control restrictions, NRA will pull our support for the bill and vigorously oppose its passage!
(For additional information, please click here: http://www.nraila.org/Issues/FactSheets/Read.aspx?id=219&issue=018.)