John Feinblatt is president of Everytown for Gun Safety.
We need to enforce the laws already on the books.
The problem isn’t guns — it’s mental illness.
Every time there is a gun-violence tragedy in our country, we hear these same arguments from politicians who consistently oppose common-sense gun-safety legislation aimed at keeping firearms out of dangerous hands.
In December, President Barack Obama finalized a rule that did these very two things — by enforcing existing laws that keep guns out of the hands of people with severe mental illnesses who are already prohibited from having them.
The rule commits the Social Security Administration to submit records into the national background check system for disability recipients already prohibited from possessing guns due to severe mental illness. The rule did not change who is or is not allowed to buy guns in our country; indeed, federal law already requires the SSA to send these records. But the SSA hasn’t submitted yet — so this was a simple and necessary record-reporting fix. As we all know, the system is only as good as the records it contains.
Now this Congress has taken its first action on guns — and it’s a repeal of this rule. Our representatives voted to fundamentally downgrade the system aimed at keeping guns out of dangerous hands — reopening a loophole that makes it easy for prohibited purchasers to buy guns in our country. All people covered by the rule are suffering from mental illness so severe that they are unable to work and unable to manage disability benefits due to mental impairment. But the members who killed the rule simply ignored the law prohibiting gun possession by these disability recipients — and in the process have enabled people with severe mental illness to pass a background check at their local dealer and walk out armed, illegally.
Yes, they made America dangerous again.
What’s more, the very legislators who crow about enforcing existing laws or argue that we should address mental health instead of guns are some of the ones who voted for this repeal, undermining exactly the enforcement process they have always claimed to prioritize. It seems this was all lip service.
This first move on guns isn’t the last we’ll see of Congress advancing the gun lobby’s agenda of more guns for anyone, anywhere, no questions asked.
For example, the National Rifle Association is currently pushing radical legislation to make it easier for people to buy firearm silencers, which could place these devices into dangerous hands and make it harder for bystanders and law enforcement to hear, locate and react quickly to gunshots. The NRA claims this is about public health — but after it spent decades opposing funding for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research into how gun violence kills so many Americans, who buys that?
And then there’s the top gun-lobby priority for this new Congress: an unprecedented policy that would allow potentially dangerous and irresponsible people to carry concealed guns throughout the country. The gun lobby is proposing a reciprocity law that would turn the lowest state standard for carrying a concealed, loaded handgun into the law of the land. No training? Legally blind? No background check? No problem.
Most states make it possible for law enforcement to deny concealed-carry permits for convicted stalkers, for violent offenders, for drunk drivers, for domestic abusers and for those deemed a risk to public safety. But the gun lobby has dismantled the concealed-carry permitting requirements in at least eight states, over the concerns of law enforcement and against public opinion , and now they want to force every state to accept that standard.
We hear a lot of rhetoric from this new administration about violence in America. We share the goal of keeping our communities safe — but we are certain that the gun lobby’s agenda is precisely the wrong prescription. Degrading our background-check system, making silencers more accessible and lowering the nationwide standard to carry a concealed weapon only makes our streets more dangerous. That’s why the growing movement of Americans committed to protecting our safety — including gun owners and NRA members — will hold Congress accountable.
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