Gun group opposes gun bill tightening background checks

A vocal gun group has urged its members to oppose the one gun bill that Congress is actively considering in the wake of shootings at Virginia Tech.

In an e-mail alert sent to its members this week, the Gun Owners of America (GOA) called the fight over the legislation the “biggest gun battle of the year.”

The bill, authored by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), seeks to improve the federal background-check system that gun-store owners are required to use when selling guns to prospective buyers.

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The measure was authored by a prominent gun control advocate, but is modest enough to have won the support of Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), a gun-rights supporter and former board member of the National Rifle Association (NRA), a much larger and more influential group than Gun Owners.

Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has taken the lead in the legislative negotiations to move the measure forward. The NRA has yet to weigh in on the bill this year.

The measure seeks to push states to share with federal authorities information that may disqualify individuals from a gun purchase, including a history of mental disease. The bill threatens to withhold federal funds if states fail to ensure the transfer of information within three years of the bill’s enactment.   

Some have asked whether Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho should have been disqualified from purchasing two guns after a judge ordered him to be evaluated at a mental institution.

Virginia police authorities have said that Cho was still legally allowed to purchase the guns. The law disqualifies people who are deemed to be mentally unsound or have been ordered by a judge to be committed to a mental institution. Cho was never formally committed.

The GOA’s e-mail message says the bill will further restrict gun owners’ rights. But George Burke, a spokesman for McCarthy, said the bill does not expand current gun laws. He said the bill only seeks to ensure that state officials share relevant information with the federal background-check system.

The Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits the sale of guns in nine circumstances. Those include prior felony records, the imposition of a restraining order, or a history of problems.

Although the NRA overshadows the less influential GOA, Burke said the NRA is nervous about losing members to its smaller rival and has been reluctant so far to weigh in on the issue.

The GOA alert quotes a Washington Post article that suggest the NRA was negotiating with Democrats on the bill.
“As of right now, we are combating this latest onslaught ALONE in our nation’s capital,” the e-mail states.

Chris Cox, a lobbyist at the NRA, said, however, that his group supports the inclusion of certain mental health records for use in background checks.

“We support the concept of including records of those individuals who have been adjudicated by the courts as mentally defective,” Cox said.

A spokesman for Dingell said the congressman is continuing to negotiate with the NRA over the bill.

An earlier version already passed the House when Republicans were in control. But Burke said Democratic leaders are treading carefully even in the wake of the Tech shootings, believing gun control legislation could split the caucus.
“They are nervous,” he said. “It is more of a pro-gun House than it has been in the past.”