U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) is the #2 Republican leader in the Senate with an A+ rating from the NRA, and his announcement today over proposed legislation addressing gun background checks and mental illness has both sides of the aisle somewhat shocked. According to his website today, Cornyn:
…will introduce legislation designed to enhance the ability of local communities to identify and treat potentially dangerous, mentally-ill individuals. The Mental Health and Safe Communities Act will help fix the existing background check system without expanding it, increase the use of treatment-based alternatives for mentally-ill offenders, and improve crisis response and prevention by local officials.
Background Checks, Gun Control And Current Loopholes
Part of the problem this bill seeks to address is the following hole: The law requires federally licensed gun dealers to run background checks, and those background checks are supposed to include people with serious mental issues. However, states are not required to send the relevant records to the FBI for the database.
The result is that the FBI’s database (NICS) is spotty, at best, and many dangerous people slip through the system. One of these people was John Russel Houser, who used a semiautomatic handgun to kill two and injure nine before turning the gun on himself in a Lafayette theater last month. Houser had documented mental health issues, including being involuntarily committed.
According to Business Insider, this bill would entice states to send in records (at least 90%) in exchange for increasing grants (up to 5%) under the government’s main law enforcement program, and decrease the criminal-justice grants of those who provide less than 90 percent. As stated by Yahoo News:
The bill would give state and local governments more flexibility to use federal funds to screen for mental problems in prisoners and improve training for law enforcement officers and others on handling emergencies involving the mentally ill.
Although in terms of gun control this bill seems to be like putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound, it is great that a major Republican player is willing to publicly admit that there is a huge problem with existing gun control measures, the treatment of mentally ill people, and the police’s training in dealing with crisis situations involving mentally ill people. The seeming focus of mental health issues of this bill gained the support of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The bill also has the support of the NRA, however critics say it does little to limit dangerous people from purchasing guns on-line or at gun shows.
Didn’t A Democratic Senator Propose Something Similar Earlier This Week?
Sen. Cornyn’s bill is very modest compared to Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer’s bill, introduced earlier this week. Sen. Schumer’s bill also has a program that accordingly rewards or penalizes states for sharing information; however, it includes domestic abusers and felons as well as people considered “mentally deficient.” It also proposes to collect information from every state on standards for involuntary commitment and put forth a best practices list. Last, he’s calling on Congress
…to fully fund mental health and substance abuse programs. The senator noted that the Senate is currently considering cutting $159 million in federal funding that helps treat the mentally ill. Implementing those cuts in the wake of the multiple mass shootings that have happened this year is ‘the equivalent of a shoulder shrug to the victims,’ Sen. Schumer said.
Although at the beginning of this year, Pew Research released findings that for the first time since 1993 more people were concerned with the rights of gun owners than were concerned with gun control, perhaps these bills (along with President Obama’s proposal last month) are a sign of the tide turning back.
Featured Image via Sen. John Cornyn’s Facebook page