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Republican Lawmaker Has Proposal In Response To Gun Control

(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

The House has been passing gun control legislation since 2018. We knew they’d do it and they have. It’s been easy to pass it when you don’t have to worry about the Senate passing it, though, and so far, that’s where these bills have died.

Thankfully.

However, people seem bound and determined to push gun control.

Now, a Republican lawmaker has a couple of ideas that might just get through.

Congress is currently gridlocked on gun control measures. The House recently passed two bills to restrict purchases, but they will be a tough sell in the Senate.

“We don’t need more gun control,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-LA. “We need more idiot control.”

Kennedy said he has a fix.

“We need to restore the integrity of the database,” he said.

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System verifies whether a person can buy a gun. According to the FBI, the database has conducted more than 300 million checks over the past 20 years, leading to nearly two million denials. However, Kennedy argues there are holes in the system.

“The name of everyone who needs to be in the database is not in the database,” he said. “And agencies that are responsible for sending in the names need to be made to do it.”

Kennedy’s legislation would do just that, along with ensuring the Justice Department prosecutes people who try to buy guns illegally.

“You know why we can’t pass it? Because the Democrats vote against it,” Kennedy said.

And Kennedy isn’t asking for anything insane. His proposal is to make what’s already on the books work better before we even think of trying to pass new laws that can be completely ineffective in stop bad people from getting guns.

After all, the shooter in Sutherland Springs was a dishonorably discharged Air Force veteran who shouldn’t have been able to purchase a firearm, yet his prohibited status never came up in NICS. Making sure all the names that are supposed to be in there are actually in there might do a good bit to dissuade people from trying to buy.

However, actually prosecuting those who do try it might do even more, though there is one problem with Kennedy’s proposal. As it currently stands, there’s no way for anyone other than FFLs and law enforcement to check the NICS system. That means that if you don’t know you’re prohibited by law from buying a gun, you might not realize it until you’ve been denied, and at that point, you’ve already committed a criminal offense. As Cam pointed out a few weeks ago, this isn’t a hypothetical situation, but a very real problem covered by the York Daily Record in Pennsylvania back in 2018.

Defense attorneys who’ve handled these cases in York County said most of those getting charged with this crime are often just making an honest mistake on the background check forms. The questions that appear to trip up the most people are whether they’ve been convicted of a crime that could have carried a sentence of more than one year in jail, or if they’ve ever been involuntarily committed.

“I have yet to see any of my cases where the person was intentionally trying to deceive the system,” said Mike Fenton, an attorney in York County.

Farley Holt, a defense attorney in York, said those who were sentenced to minimal jail time or probation in the past do not think much about the question. Sometimes, the conviction at issue was from 20 years ago, he said.

It’s a “one-size-fits-all law,” he said. But the problem, Holt said, is that someone who was involuntarily committed as a teenager is put in the same category as a person who did 10 years in state prison for attempted murder.

In Pennsylvania, background checks are not required in private transfers of rifles or shotguns, and do not happen if a weapon is bought illegally. For the most part, Holt said, these are people who do not realize they can’t own a gun, and they’re trying to get one the “right way.”

To Joe Gothie, a defense attorney in York, the fact that sale or transfer of firearms is a felony does not give the whole picture.

The offense gravity score, one of the factors that’s used in the sentencing guidelines, is an eight on a one-to-14 scale. That means sale or transfer of firearms is rated the same as homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, or theft of more than $100,000.

“The penalties are so extremely serious immediately,” Gothie said. “Someone who legitimately just screwed up, do they deserve to go to state prison over it?”

As it stands, few people are ever prosecuted for trying to buy a firearm while prohibited from doing so, and we need to make sure that those who are being prosecuted deserve it. While I’m fine with rolling back every gun law in this country, I also think if you’re going to say some people are prohibited from even trying to buy a firearm, then you need to follow that through.

Especially before you tell me that our problem in this country is that our gun laws are too lax. Sorry, that ain’t gonna fly when the party saying it tends to vote against measures meant to shore up existing laws.

Kennedy’s proposal is something Republicans should counter gun control with, though the idea would be even stronger if it included a way for individual gun buyers to check on their status before an FFL submits their Form 4473 to the NICS system. Make the Democrats explain why it’s bad to arrest felons who try to buy a gun from a licensed dealer, but make sure that people who make an innocent mistake don’t end up caught up in a prosecutorial nightmare.

The question is, does the GOP have the spine to actually do that?

Sep 23, 2021 10:30 AM ET