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NRA-backed bill aims to keep guns from the mentally ill

August 8, 2015 at 5:32 PM EDT
On the cusp of James Holmes's sentencing, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn is sponsoring a bill to help states better report people known to be mentally ill to the FBI database of individuals prohibited from buying guns. The bill has garnered support from several organizations, including the National Rifle Association. Washington Post reporter Mike DeBonis joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:  The mass shootings in Aurora, Tucson, Newtown and other cities have not led to stricter national gun laws or even tougher background checks, but a new proposal may change that.  Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn is sponsoring a bill to help states better report people known to be mentally ill to the FBI database of individuals prohibited from buying guns.

Joining me now for more on this development is “Washington Post” reporter Mike DeBonis.

So, I remember after in 2013 sort of gun control legislation, after the Newtown massacre didn’t go very far.  What’s so different about this?

MIKE DEBONIS, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Sure.  Thanks, Hari.

It’s pretty simple.  What’s different about this is that this bill has, at least at this point, the backing of the National Rifle Association, which is pretty much a prerequisite for getting anything related to guns or background checks or anything related to firearms through this Republican Congress.

So, you know, the fact that this is being sponsored by an A-plus rated NRA member, and the fact that, you know, you have a whole different coalition involving mental health advocates and law enforcement who are also backing this bill, gives it — means that this is somewhat different from what we saw after Newtown.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Now, there’s a provision in here where a judge can impose treatment on someone without having them committed.  I mean, that’s a distinction that’s pretty important.

MIKE DEBONIS:  Right.  What Senator Cornyn’s bill would do is expand what’s currently done in a number of states, whereby family members or outside parties could petition a court to provide voluntary treatment for an individual rather than go as far as to have an involuntary commitment.  The catch is that under this bill, the fact that somebody entered a voluntary treatment or a mental health treatment program that would not keep them from being able to go and buy a gun.  The fact would remain that you would have to be involuntary committed to be barred from buying a gun.

Currently, to get your right to buy a gun back, you have to go before a judge and prove that you’re capable and able to have a fireman.  Under this bill, what would happen would be as soon as the order, the commitment order expired, you would automatically be able to go and purchase a gun again.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  You know, speaking of purchasing a gun, gun control advocates point out that this doesn’t close what they call the gun show loophole.

MIKE DEBONIS:  Right.  That’s absolutely true.  The gun show loophole is what was at issue in the legislation that was proposed after Newtown in 2013.  That’s legislation that the NRA initially indicated they might be able to support, but they withdrew that support, and only I believe, 54 senators were able to support that in the Senate.  Nothing gets done unless you get 60 senators.

And since then, the Senate has gotten even more conservative.  So, there’s really — it’s pretty well-known that there’s no chance for the gun show background check bill, similar to what we saw in 2013, to succeed in this Congress.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  So, what’s the likelihood of this piece of legislation making it to the floor?

MIKE DEBONIS:  Well, it has a lot going for it.  Number one, the fact that the NRA isn’t opposing it.  It, in fact, appears to be endorsing it.

Number two, it’s being sponsored by John Cornyn, who is the number two ranking Republican in GOP leadership in the Senate.  He’s the majority whip.  He’s a senior member of the judiciary committee which would have to handle this bill.

I think that that — you know, those are both things that would indicate that this would have a pretty, you know, high chance of likelihood that it could move successfully through the Senate.  But keep in mind, we’re, you know, approaching an election year.  We’re already very much in the middle of an election debate, and the closer you get to the election, the more that, you know, even anything on any sort of controversial matter can get caught up in any sort of side issue and get side tracked.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right.  “Washington Post” reporter Mike DeBonis, thanks so much for joining us.

MIKE DEBONIS:  Thanks, Hari.

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