Monday, June 10, 2013

Newton's Six Months Later

It has been six months since Adam Lanza went into Sandy Hook and killed 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook.  The tragedy sparked a massive debate about the need for more control over background checks and closing some loopholes.  We even saw an attempt at a bi-partiansin bill in Senate Bill S. 649.  That bill failed to get the new concept of a majority (60-40) and was pulled by Harry Reed to give it a chance later on.  Senator Tim Johnson voted for the bill and Senator John Thune voted against it.  I was upset that a common-sense, bi-partiansin bill like this that would have expanded background checks modestly and provided a modest push to more regulation on guns did not pass that I actually e-mail Senator Thune to explain his reasoning.

You see, I had read an article published in the Mitchell Daily Republic on March 28 (a few weeks before the vote took place) in which Thune had said that he could support some limitations.  He then went on to blame gun violence on lack of mental health services (although "He acknowledged he is not sure there is congressional support for increased funding for mental health programs, despite saying mental illness is a primary cause of gun attacks."  By congressional support I am sure that he means the Republican party) and violent video games and movies that are awash in blood.  So, I held some hope that he might actually sign onto this bill and do something.  HE DIDN'T and I wanted to know why!

Here is his reasoning (or lack thereof):

Dear Michael:
Thank you for contacting me about the debate on S. 649, the recent gun control legislation. I appreciate hearing from you.
As you know, Congress recently debated and considered S. 649 and a variety of amendments to this legislation. On April 11, 2013, the U.S. Senate voted on a procedural motion related to this bill. I voted against this motion because I had many concerns with the underlying bill and believe the problem we are trying to fix will not be solved by this legislation.
I agree that we must keep high-risk individuals from obtaining and possessing firearms, and one tool to achieve this is the National Instant Background Check System (NICS). The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act requires every person to undergo a background check through NICS in order to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer. It also prohibits nine classes of persons from receiving or possessing firearms, including felons, fugitives, persons that unlawfully use any controlled substance, and persons adjudicated as “mentally defective.” However, S. 649 would not have strengthened or fixed current issues with the NICS. Rather, it would create a universal background check system and leave the door open to the formation of a national registry of gun ownership, creating a host of constitutional questions.
Included in this debate was an amendment offered by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) that would have expanded background check requirements to private transfers of firearms. This amendment failed by a vote of 54 to 46, needing 60 votes to pass. I opposed this amendment due to concerns about the process for enforcing this expansion of background checks. Additionally, before expanding the use of the background check system, I believe we need to ensure that accurate records are being reported to the NICS. While those adjudicated “mentally defective” are prohibited from receiving or purchasing a firearm, only about half of all states forward these records to the NICS index. Expanding the use of the NICS will not prevent high-risk individuals from obtaining firearms until we gather more records and make NICS more effective.
The Senate also considered a substitute amendment to S. 649 offered by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA). I supported this amendment because I believe it would take the necessary steps to reduce gun violence and improve mental health without violating law abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights. This amendment would have included much needed reforms to the NICS, while also increasing federal prosecutions of gun crimes. This alternative legislation also included mental health and school safety titles. Unfortunately, this amendment failed by a vote of 52 to 48, needing 60 votes to pass. I strongly feel these are the steps we should take to address the issue of gun violence.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled S. 649 from the Senate floor without proceeding to final passage of the bill. It is unclear at this time if the Senate will resume consideration of this legislation. If you would like additional information on my activities in the Senate, please feel free to visit my website, Thanks again for contacting me. Please keep in touch.
Kindest regards,
United States Senator

Okay....Let us begin to break this letter down.  In the first paragraph he said that NICS requires anyone that buys firearms through a licensed dealer must go through a background check.  That was the point of the bill was to cover things like gun shows and internet sales.  If you would like to read an accurate description of the amendment, you can read it here.  I will be referring to again from time to time.  Okay, so mislead number one.

Thune then propagates the lies that Machine-Toomey would set up a national registry of gun owners.  
Here is what the bill actually called for:

• As under current law, background checks are performed by licensed dealers, and recordkeeping will not change—dealers will keep the records in bound books, like they do now. The federal government cannot keep records.
• Our bill explicitly bans the federal government from creating a registry and creates a new penalty for misusing records to create a registry—a felony punishable by 15 years in prison. 

I know the NRA is great at shooting lies from the hip, but it doesn't mean that you need to push them Mr. Thune.

Then he argues that the current NICS is flawed and not all the states produce the records.  That we must gather more records and make the NICS more effective.  Please read this statement from the description of what the amendment actually does:

• Under current law, if you buy a gun online interstate (from one state to another), the gun must be shipped to a licensed dealer, you must go to that dealer and get a background check before you purchase the gun. However, for intrastate (in the same state) sales, no background check is required and you can sell the gun to the person without ever meeting face-to-face.
o Our bill requires that the current system for interstate sales be expanded to cover intrastate sales as well—so all purchasers buying guns online must undergo a background check by a licensed dealer. 

There are serious problems currently with states not putting records into the NICS system. One tragic example: records on the Virginia Tech shooter that
would have put him on the prohibited purchasers list had not been entered into the system.
Our bill encourages states to provide all their available records to NICS by eliminating unnecessary responsibilities for states and directing future grant
money towards creating systems to send records to NICS. The bill will also reduce federal funds to states that do not comply.
  • Provides additional Second Amendment protections to our veterans.
  • Requires that if a background check at a gun show does not result in a definitive response from NICS within 48 hours, the sale may proceed. After four
years, when the NICS improvements are completed, the background check would be required to clear in 24 hours. Current law is three business days. 

HMMM...This seems to begin to actually fix part of the problem with the need to make the system more effective.  I think one way to make the whole ATF more effective would be to actually name a director instead of blocking it for the past seven years!  How about letting the ATF computerize the files they have in their records now instead of microfiche and paper?  A federal law prevents them from taking this common sense step in a modern area.  It is also next to impossible to track guns because of a lack of reporting system.  A quotation from the Daily Beast sums it up best, "So, yes, the NRA leadership is all for enforcing the laws on the books—so long as the enforcer of those laws is leaderless, blinded, shackled, and not allowed to use computers."  

Finally,  he talks about how we should support the Grassley substitution amendment like other Republicans (and only Republicans for the bi-partianship lovers out there).  The amendment never ends the problems that prevent the NCIS from being effective and doesn't really increase any background checks.  It focuses on punishing people who fail a background check and allows people with conceal and carry permits to cross state-lines and ignore the laws of different states.

I appreciate the Thune's office took the time to respond to my request for his reasoning for not voting the the amendment, but that doesn't mean I can accept his vote.  I know that this law probably would not have stopped the tragedy at Sandy Hook.  I don't believe in simple solutions to complex problems, but it would reduce the number of incidents of gun tragedy's around the US.  Six months since Sandy Hook, over 4,200 people have died due to gun violence.  That is a tragedy we only hear about when it is in terms of mass-killings like that of Santa Monica, California; however, we should close our eyes, shrug our shoulders, and say that nothing can be done about it.

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