Transcript: Press briefing Q&A on the NICS Reporting Improvement Act of 2013

Transcript of Q&A on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Reporting Improvement Act of 2013, which would prevent people who are deemed mentally ill from legally purchasing a gun. The press briefing was held on March 6, 2013:

Question:
Senator, what are the agencies that are responsible for recording that information to the database and is there a rule for the states to also turn over whatever information they have?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
Well, the regulations defining mentally incompetent doesn’t pick up a not guilty by reason of insanity finding. So we’re going to change the federal regulations – this happened in the federal system – to better define as Sen. Begich said. The objective here – the objective is after you’ve had a competent court find that you’re danger to yourself and others to capture that. There’s due process, appeal rights, and all of these systems but in Ms. Boland’s case, pleading not guilty by reason of insanity of trying to kill the President doesn’t disqualify you under the current background system. I think 99.9% of Americans will say that’s a mistake. It needs to be fixed, and we’re going to fix it.

Now, as to the state system, I think you made a good point. I don’t know how many state adjudications there are in the United States where people have been found by a competent court to be a danger to themselves and others that are not in the federal system for background check purposes. There’s, I think, 14,000 in South Carolina. So my state legislature is trying to fix that problem by requiring our state law enforcement division to take all of these adjudications and put them into the federal system. And I would urge every state to do that.

Just like Jeff [Flake] has said, you know, we’ve got thousands of people out there who have had their day in different court and are found to be dangerous to themselves and others that the system doesn’t know about when it comes to gun purchases.

Whatever differences we have, I think this is one area we should be able to rally around.

Question:
Senator, under the current law, Alice Boland, who you used as an example, would be allowed to go to a gun show and buy a gun. This would not change it. Are you still okay with leaving those loopholes in place?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.):
The question about regulating private sales at gun shows – what’s a private sale? One thing I’m not ever going to support is if I buy a shotgun for Mark or if I give one to a family member, I’m not going to take a federal system and put that into the federal system. That’s just not practical.

I think there’s some work being done with Senator Coburn about someone taking private firearms to a public place to sell them as to whether or not they should go through the background check process. I think that is a work in progress.

But I would just add this one fact: In 2010, there were 76,000 people who failed the background check and there were only about 62 prosecutions. 19% of those who failed the background check in 2010 – 13,862 people – were fugitives from justice – not any of them were picked up. I mean, clearly we’ve got a long way to go to improve the current system. You know, one, if you’re dumb enough to go try to buy a gun when you’re on the lam, we need to catch you. I mean, imagine this: someone who’s a fugitive from justice goes in to buy a gun, fills out the form, they pop up in the system as being a fugitive from justice and nothing ever happens to him. I think that’s a good place to start fixing that current system.

Question:
…the limit of what you would support with background checks. The bill Senator Coburn is working on…

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.):
I’ll just speak for myself. Tom Coburn is a good friend and anything Tom Coburn thinks is a good idea I will certainly look at closely. If they can ever reach a bipartisan agreement about the problem you just indicated with the background checks, I will be open to looking at their work product. But I would say this: As my colleagues have said, we have a background check system that really doesn’t create any deterrent. So what if you fail a background check? It’s against the law to fill these forms out – and go look at the forms – they’re not confusing. It’s against the law to fill these forms out and if you break the law and nothing ever happens to you, my concern is expanding the amount of paper that we do nothing with is not a deterrent we’re looking for.

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska):
If I can add one other part to that and that is, you know, what you see us doing today is we’re finding the piece of the puzzle that you can get fairly strong bipartisan support on. And we think – you know – we don’t want to get caught up in all of the other but let’s try to move forward and make some difference.

I will tell you as a former mayor, we went after these issues of guns and gangs and drugs and we did something very simple. I’ll tell you as this described about the people who are crazy enough to go buy a gun and think they can get away with it by filling out a form, know they’re a fugitive or felon, and not every prosecution is [incomprehensible audio]. ‘Cause as a former mayor, what we had to deal with was felons who had guns, and what we did is a very simple thing. We actually hired two city prosecutors, we assigned them to the U.S. Attorney’s office, one focus: guns, gangs, and drugs. And I’ll tell you what happen real quick. Because once you sentence someone on a gun case on the state court, the odds are they’ll serve maybe 60 days and off they go. In a federal court, it’s 5 years mandatory. So what do you think happened in the street when they started finding out we were putting people away for 5 years for a felon carrying a gun? It circulated very quickly on the street and less and less gun offenses were occurring because it’s a very tight community out there. If you look at where these gun offenses occur, over the whole country the thousands of gun cases a sizable amount are related to criminal activity – gun, gangs, drugs – those types of activities. So we entered into a very fast-paced and tried to deal with this.

What we’re trying to do here is we recognize there’s an inconsistent language that’s proven by the case that Sen. Graham had just talked about. So the goal here is try to clean up the language, get it clear and simple, and then also start having this – the NICS system actually reference this type of case.

At the same time, be very careful about stigmatizing those who have mental illness. For example, one of the pieces here, it would make it clear if the legally disabled – disability no longer applies to that person, they have been found to be recovered and have gone through a process, then they’re back into the legal rights. But we try to clarify something that’s been very confusing.

I guess my point is you’re always going to have a lot of issues on the table in the next several weeks. But we found one that we think solves a significant problem, bipartisan support, and we believe has a great chance of moving forward through the system.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.):
If there’s any item in this whole gun violence debate that can make a difference – a real difference – I think this is it. In other words, to make sure that we better integrate and strengthen the background check to include those who are not mentally abled or should not have guns in this way. When you think about it, if you’re a criminal out to get a gun, you’d typically have the criminal networks where you might not be able to get it at a gun show or a private sale but you can get it somewhere else or just go, you know, check the background system – you aren’t going to be caught anyway if you’re a criminal, it sounds like.

But in the case of people with mental health issues, often they are loners. They’re people without these networks. They are those that if they are turned down, it may delay them long enough where there might be some type of intervention or something that could stop them from the path that they’re on.

And I think if you look at the case of Jared Loughner – he’d not been adjudicated so this would not have applied to him. But those like him it just seems that if you want to make a real difference here’s where you can make a real difference.

Question:
Very often when the issue of mental health or illness comes up as far as guns are concerned…veterans groups who bring up the issue of PTSD or being treated for PTSD whether they’re recently or in the past…how does this law address that?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.):
Well, this law capture decisions by courts that have found someone to be a danger to themselves or others. In this case, a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity was lost in the system. It will now be captured. People with mental health problems need to have due process. We’re not going to take your Second Amendment rights away because somebody said something bad about you down the street. You know, people spread rumors about your mental health if you had an episode in the military or you’re receiving treatment. I think the system needs to have a mechanism as to whether or not we can determine in a rational way that disability renders you unsafe to yourself and others. So this is a delicate balance. What we’re trying to do is capture court decisions, you know, when courts have rendered verdicts, and there are over 14,000 people apparently in South Carolina who have been adjudicated to be in danger to themselves and others by a competent court and not in the system, and that’s we’re trying to fix. And your example – we just have to be careful about how far we go.

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska):
Again, that part I just mentioned also is very critical in regards to making it clear that legally disabled no longer applies after the person’s found to have recovered from mental illness. This is a piece of the equation that you’re referring to. And the other piece is – just to make sure it’s clear – the verbiage – it used to be as “adjudicated as a mental defect” – defective. Now it’s “adjudicated mentally incompetent.” That’s an important distinction. We worked with the mental health community to get that distinction correctly done because of that issue you brought up as well as other.

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5 Comments on “Transcript: Press briefing Q&A on the NICS Reporting Improvement Act of 2013

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