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Chair of Federal "Gun Violence Prevention Task Force" Introduces Wide-Ranging Gun Control Bill

Friday, May 30, 2014

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA-5), chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, has introduced what he is calling "the Promoting Healthy Minds for Safer Communities Act of 2014."  In truth, the bill is largely composed of gun control measures that mirror and supplement acts being pursued in the states by the likes of Michael Bloomberg and his "Everytown" gun control cabal.

After a nod to more general mental health reform in its first two Titles, the bill gets down to gun control in Title III. There, it explicitly authorizes the Centers for Disease Control to study "gun violence," a code phrase for smearing the concept of firearm ownership generally. It also undermines protections placed in Obamacare to prevent physicians from inappropriately collecting information about lawful firearm ownership. Some opponents of these protections claimed they were unnecessary, asserting that the healthcare legislation had nothing to do with firearms. Yet Thompson's bill would authorize doctors to question "a patient about the ownership, possession, use, or storage of a firearm or ammunition in the home of such patient," whatever the patient's need for treatment.

Title IV of the bill would expand existing prohibited person categories under the federal Gun Control Act. Outpatient mental health treatment would become prohibiting in some circumstances. Misdemeanor prohibitions would also be expanded, including an entirely new prohibition related to "stalking convictions." As defined in the bill, such convictions would not require any finding of violence or even violent intent, nor would they be limited to offenses occurring between persons with preexisting relationships.  An existing misdemeanor prohibition would also be expanded to capture a much larger class of people. These prohibitions, moreover, would apply not just to future outpatient "commitments" or convictions but to those that had occurred in the past.  Thus, persons who have long been in lawful possession of firearms without problem or incident could suddenly find themselves subject to federal felony penalties for continued possession.

Another provision would limit states' eligibility for certain federal grants unless the state had certain types of gun control laws or procedures. One option would be for the state to authorize police to seize the firearms and ammunition of individuals who are deemed to pose an "elevated risk of harm," even if no other criminal or mental health proceedings are initiated. Such findings, according to the bill, could arise from a "history" of substance abuse or a determination that the person "lacks impulse control." Another option would be for the state to "temporarily" prohibit firearm possession by persons involuntarily hospitalized for at least 48 hours for mental health reasons, even if just for an evaluation that ultimately determines the person does not pose an elevated risk. Because the term "temporary" is not defined, however, it could conceivably mean anything short of permanent disarmament.

Still other provisions would undermine the relief-from-disabilities provisions of the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007 (NIAA). For several years, states have been changing their laws to comply with the original provisions of that act.  Those changes, however, would prove meaningless if the bill were enacted. Also unclear would be the status of persons who had undergone rights restoration under the original version of the NIAA but not under the greatly expanded procedures that would be mandated under Thompson's bill.

The NRA strongly opposes this unjustified incursion on Second Amendment rights. Not only is it unjustified and expansive in its prohibitions, it exploits and stigmatizes stereotypes of the mentally ill, most of whom do not pose an elevated risk of harm.

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