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Menino Urges Congress to Fix Gun Background Checks

By Laura DeKoven Waxman
November 21, 2011

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino was in Washington (DC) November 15 calling on Congress to reform the national background check system for gun purchases to prevent dangerous people from obtaining firearms. Menino, co-chair of Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Past President of the Conference of Mayors, was joined by more than 50 victims of recent mass shootings in the United States.

“While Boston is taking away illegal guns from dangerous people to keep our communities safe, our nation’s young people, seniors, police officers, parents, families and business people need national leadership to fix the broken background check system,” Menino said in a Capitol Hill press conference with New York Senator Charles Schumer.

The focus of the day’s events was a bill sponsored by Schumer, the Fix Gun Checks Act of 2011 (S. 435). The bill is intended to get all of the names of prohibited gun purchasers into the background check system, by establishing greater penalties for states that do not comply with reporting laws, requiring federal agencies to provide data to the National Instant Check System, clarifying the definition of mentally ill, and establishing mental health plans for colleges and universities. In addition the bill would require background checks for every gun sale, including those at gun shows.

The bill would stiffen state penalties for noncompliance by cutting a greater amount of Justice Department grant funding. Currently, states that fail to report to the NICS database 50 percent or more of the records they have on individuals not allowed to buy a gun face penalties of up to a three percent cut in their Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) funding. Schumer’s legislation would increase the reporting requirement to 75 percent by FY 2013 and 90 percent by FY 2018, with JAG funding penalties increased to 15 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

Also that day, the Senate Judiciary Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee conducted a hearing on the bill. New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, also co-chair of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, was represented at the hearing by his Chief Advisor for Policy and Strategic Planning John Feinblatt, who told the subcommittee that, “The tragic fact is that often background checks just don’t happen or they don’t work, because the information that should be in the background check system isn’t.”

Among the other witnesses was Patricia Maisch of Tucson, a survivor of the shooting that occurred in her city in January and left six dead and seriously wounded Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others, including Maisch. Maisch called for passage of the Fix Gun Checks bill, saying that it “…will save lives, maybe the life of someone you love.”

House Passes Bill that Would Preempt State Concealed Carry Laws

The next day, on a 272-154 vote, the House passed legislation that would permit holders to carry concealed handguns across state lines. The bill (HR 822) would override state laws by forcing states with tight restrictions on who can get concealed carry permits to allow out-of'state residents to carry loaded, hidden weapons in public even if they have not met basic licensing or training requirements mandated for carrying in that state, so long as the permit holder is not prohibited by federal law from having a firearm. The measure would not apply to Illinois and the District of Columbia, the only “states” which do not provide concealed-carry permits. The measure now moves to the Senate, which narrowly rejected similar legislation in 2009.