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House passes major gun control bill
Jun. 13, 2007 08:44 AM
WASHINGTON - The House Wednesday passed what could become the first major federal gun control law in over a decade, spurred by the Virginia Tech campus killings and buttressed by National Rifle Association help.
The bill, which was passed on a voice vote, would improve state reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to stop gun purchases by people, including criminals and those adjudicated as mentally defective, who are prohibited from possessing firearms.
Seung-Hui Cho, who in April killed 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech before taking his own life, had been ordered to undergo outpatient mental health treatment and should have been barred from buying two guns he used in the rampage. But the state of Virginia had never forwarded this information to the national background check system.
If it moves through the Senate and is signed into law by the president, it would be the most important gun control act since Congress banned some assault weapons in 1994, the last year Democrats controlled the House. In 1996, Congress did add those convicted of domestic violence to the list of those banned from purchasing firearms.
The bill was the outcome of weeks of negotiations between the Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the most senior member of the House and a strong supporter of gun rights, and the NRA, and in turn, with Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., and a leading gun-control advocate.
The NRA insisted that it was not a "gun control" bill because it does not disqualify anyone currently able to legally purchase a firearm.
The NRA has always supported the NICS, said the organization's executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre. "We've always been vigilant about protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens to purchase guns, and equally vigilant about keeping the guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally defective and people who shouldn't have them."
Under a gun control act that passed in 1968, when Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were killed, people barred from buying guns included those convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year in prison, illegal drug users, those adjudicated as mentally disabled, and illegal aliens.
The legislation approved Wednesday would require states to automate and share disqualifying records with the FBI's NICS database. The bill also provides $250 million a year over the next three years to help states meet those goals and imposes penalties, including cuts in federal grants under an anti-crime law, to those states that fail to meet benchmarks for automating their systems and supplying information to the NICS.