- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2003

A bill to improve the national database aimed at preventing felons and the mentally ill from purchasing guns was announced jointly yesterday by two senators, a Democrat and a Republican.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, is a leading gun-control advocate, and Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, is a National Rifle Association member.

Mr. Schumer predicted it would be the “first gun legislation to go through Congress in years,” saying the backers on stage with him covered the entire spectrum of gun-control positions.

The bill would provide $400 million in incentives and grants to help states provide better information to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which allows gun merchants to check quickly if a customer is a felon, mentally impaired or otherwise prohibited from buying a gun.

“While it has improved mightily,” Mr. Craig said of NICS, “it still has holes in it.”

Advocates predict the bill would add 35 million new records to the system.

An analysis by Americans for Gun Safety shows that 10,000 prohibited buyers had purchased guns because the system took longer than the three-day waiting period required by law. Also, 33 states cannot stop buyers with a mental-health disqualification because they don’t maintain mental health records.

“It’s a catch-as-catch-can system, and we’re not catching enough,” Mr. Schumer said.

Yesterday’s press conference produced some strange moments, with some of the most liberal and conservative lawmakers and groups coming together on one of the most divisive issues in American politics.

Mr. Schumer told of a “madman” in New York who purchased a gun and killed a preacher. He “should not have gotten a gun,” Mr. Schumer said. Beside him, Mr. Craig nodded in agreement.

“You’re looking up here and thinking, ‘Strange bedfellows,’” said Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat. “We’re not. We’re all patriotic Americans. We’re all interested in one thing: seeing to it that the laws are enforced and the criminals are caught.”

Mr. Schumer and Mr. Craig are not always in agreement about gun-control issues. Mr. Craig recently sponsored a bill that would protect gun manufacturers from lawsuits over the “misuse of their products by others,” which Mr. Schumer adamantly opposed.

When asked about the status of that legislation, Mr. Craig replied: “It’s moving quite well at this moment.”