by Bob Barr
With the U.S. House reconvening this week, the agenda will be both predictable and meaningless. Led by Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York, Democrats will clamor for bans on “assault weapons” and “high capacity” magazines. They will demand “universal” background checks and “red flag” laws. Nothing will happen that will help solve the problem of mass shootings.
As has been the GOP’s standard operating procedure, Senate leaders could simply wait for the Democrat-controlled House to pass the same cookie-cutter gun-control measures it pulls out of its arsenal every time it has the opportunity and refuse to bring the legislation to the Senate floor for votes. Or, Senate Republicans could actually do something meaningful — immediately convene hearings and call as witnesses top administration officials who can substantively address the real issues and provide information that can guide meaningful solutions.
Start with the law already on the books — the so-called “Fix NICS” Act signed last year by President Trump, and to have been fully implemented this summer. This statute was designed expressly to plug shortcomings in the system of FBI-administered background checks preceding every commercial firearm sale in the country; yet which has been demonstrably plagued by “bad information in” that results in mistakes being made with sometimes tragic consequences, as happened in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015 and Sutherland Springs, Texas two years later.
Bring forward the two key government officials most responsible for ensuring that the NICS system works as intended and as amended, before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Instead of rote talking points, these officials could provide direct and relevant answers to the Congress and the American people. Attorney General William Barr has ultimate responsibility under our laws for administering the NICS system and myriad other firearms-related programs within the jurisdiction of the sprawling department he heads. Assistant FBI Director for Criminal Justice Information Services Michael DeLeon has direct, day-to-day responsibility for the program itself.
These two men can tell the Congress what human mistakes or administrative shortcomings might be responsible for bad information coming into NICS on the front end (from data bases maintained by law enforcement and other agencies responsible for inputting information identifying persons prohibited under law from possessing firearms), that result in mistakes on the other end (allowing firearms to be sold to individuals legally “disabled” from having them). Charleston and Sutherland Springs proved the system is flawed. Hearings such as these will tell us whether measures supposed to fix those flaws are working as intended.
There are additional important hearings the Senate should initiate, rather than insisting as Nadler does, on pushing for simplistic and constitutionally flawed red flag laws or banning firearms such as the widely possessed AR-15 rifle or high capacity magazines; steps proved in the past to have no meaningful effect on firearm crimes.
Moreover, considering the fact that many, if not most mass shooters in recent years used or abused strong, psychotropic drugs in the past or immediately before their murderous sprees, the Senate should call Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, to enlighten us as to whether this phenomenon does in fact bear causally on the reasons far too young men turn to mass murder in 21st century America.
Importantly, but often overlooked in these debates, is the fact that the private sector — specifically, firearms retailers — play a key role ensuring the firearms background check system works as intended. Congress right now should directly inquire into measures at least some major retailers already are taking to ensure that information entered on the front end (from gun purchasers) is as accurate as possible by using technology to minimize human inputting error.
It is clear to virtually everyone that these and other steps to actually and meaningfully improve the firearms background check system, do not fit the politically driven agenda of House Democrats. However, as a favor to the GOP and to the American people, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should insist the Senate bring them forward, rather than playing into the left’s hands as Sen. Lindsey Graham is doing by signaling support for red flag legislation.
Bob Barr (http://www.twitter.com/BobBarr) represented Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He currently serves as president and CEO of the https://laweef.org/.