By Former Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla.) - 04/17/13 12:12 AM EDT
This week, we see a continuation of the gun debate in Washington. Much of this discussion since the tragedy of Newtown, Conn., unfortunately has been misguided, focusing on gun bans and the size of magazines instead of mental health and criminal behavior. There is some good news, however, because finally we are now starting to see some common-sense legislation under consideration in Congress.
The NICS Reporting Improvement Act of 2013 (S. 480), sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) with bipartisan support from Senate Democrats, bears consideration. I can assert this, as a former deputy sheriff who served for more than 17 years in Orange County, Fla., I look at the debate on gun control from a different perspective.
Throughout my 17 years as a law enforcement officer, the one thing that always remained true is that criminals, by their very definition, do not obey the laws. Placing more, increasingly restrictive laws on the books will not prevent criminals from committing crimes.
As Congress looks to find the common link between the horrific mass killings of innocent lives, they should acknowledge one glaring common thread — mental illness.
We should also consider there are those with mental illnesses who cannot tell the difference between playing violent video games and realizing the glorified bloody scenes in movies aren’t real. Instead, they play violent video games and acquire hand-eye coordination and watch violent movies that idolize the killer.
Not everyone who is mentally ill will act on impulses or recreate violent scenes from the entertainment industry, but there are steps we can take to prevent them from obtaining firearms and having the opportunity to use them.
While I was in the Florida Legislature, we did act. In 2006, I sponsored H.B. 151, a bill that required background checks to cross-reference a state database of people who were judged mentally defective or committed to mental institutions. In 2008, I sponsored another bill that required the state to check the mental health database when issuing concealed carry permits.
That’s why I am encouraged by Graham’s legislation at the federal level. The legislation applies to individuals who have been determined by an adjudicative body to be an imminent danger to themselves or to others; found guilty but mentally ill in a criminal case; found not guilty in a criminal case by reason of insanity or mental disease or defect; or determined incompetent to stand trial in a criminal case. At the very least, Congress is starting to have a proper conversation.
When I testified at the Senate hearing recently, I was appalled by testimony from the chief of police from the Milwaukee Police Department. When asked if he charges criminals who have broken existing laws by lying to purchase a firearm, he blatantly admitted that he does not. If we fail to prosecute existing laws, what benefit will new laws provide?
As members of Congress continue to debate gun issues, I ask that they separate their political positions and emotion from the facts. They must fix the NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) and ensure that we have an efficient federal-state partnership to cross-check disqualifying records.
Instead of rushing to disarm law-abiding citizens and leave them defenseless to criminals who will not obey the laws and will remain armed, Congress should focus on ensuring states submit uniform, complete and accurate information to the NICS for background checks. Congress should also require states to cooperate with each other when records are needed to charge and convict those criminals who are not legally allowed to have firearms. Sadly, far too often, that isn’t the case.
The Second Amendment is clear. Law-abiding citizens should be allowed to defend themselves and their families if they are faced with a life-threatening situation, just like mothers in Georgia and Oklahoma. Both were forced by their attackers to defend themselves and their children before police arrived to help. Law enforcement cannot be everywhere at all times. They do try to be there when you call, but it isn’t always in time.
I encourage Congress to continue to look for practical ways to prevent gun violence without punishing law-abiding citizens who choose to practice their Second Amendment rights.
Adams represented Florida’s 24th congressional district from 2011-2013. Prior to serving in the U.S. Congress, she served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2003-2011. She was also a law enforcement officer for 17 years.