Virginia Tech group presses for gun-control measures

A group of family members and survivors of the 2007 Virgina Tech shootings is urging Congress to strengthen gun-control measures in the wake of last weekend's Arizona shooting rampage.

The group is asking Congress to close the gun-show loophole and provide more funding for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) amid efforts by lawmakers to pass a series of legislation in response to the Arizona shooting that left six dead and 14 wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.)

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 "After Virginia Tech, Congress promised to fix the background check system so that more families would not have to experience the same horror,” Suzanne Grimes, mother of survivor Kevin Sterne, said in a statement. "Congress has not given this program the funding it deserves. We call on Congress to keep its promise to create a system that will effectively keep guns out of the wrong hands."

The debate over gun rights picked up steam after the shooting of 20 people at a meet-and-greet event for Giffords in Tucson, Ariz. The group emphasized the importance of background checks, pointing out that the suspected gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, and Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho both suffered from mental illness but were able to purchase firearms.

"The horrible shooting in Tucson was yet another tragedy caused by a broken system of gun background checks," their statement reads, "[I]f the system had worked and [Loughner's] records had been in the federal background check system (NICS), he should have failed that check."

The group noted that Congress allocated $20 million for the NICS program out of a possible $375 million authorized by the 2007 NICS Improvement Act.

But other gun-control efforts have failed to secure the support of leaders in Congress and the White House. GOP Rep. Pete King (N.Y.) has proposed a law that would ban the ability to carry a firearm within 1,000 feet of a lawmaker, while Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) — who sponsored the NICS bill — and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) are touting legislation that would outlaw high-capacity magazines such as the ones Loughner allegedly used.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), however, has not been receptive to the recent gun-control efforts, and the White House has not thrown its weight behind a proposal. President Obama also made closing the gun-show loophole a campaign promise, but has hardly spoken out on the issue since taking over the Oval Office. 

“Even if the shooters in Tucson and at Virginia Tech had failed background checks, they would have still been able to buy guns from private sellers at gun shows,” said Lori Haas, mother of survivor Emily Haas.