- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Democrat-led House, responding to the Virginia Tech shootings, yesterday passed its first gun regulation law, an NRA-backed bill designed to keep mentally ill persons from illegally purchasing firearms.

The legislation, which passed on a voice vote, would require states to automate and share records with the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) database. In addition, the bill provides $250 million a year over the next three years to assist states in meeting the requirements and impose penalties on states that fail to comply with the new regulations.

“The bill the House passed today with strong bipartisan support is a step forward in improving our nation’s background-check system,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “It authorizes funding and provides practical steps to encourage states to provide timely and accurate information on individuals who are barred under current law from acquiring guns.”

The bill came in response to April’s killing spree at Virginia Tech when Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and faculty members before taking his own life. Cho had been ordered to undergo outpatient mental health treatment and was technically prohibited from purchasing the two guns used in the attack. However, Virginia failed to forward his information to the national background-check system.

The National Rifle Association said the bill did not represent “gun control,” because it does not restrict persons currently eligible to legally purchase firearms.

“Gun owners lose nothing in the bill as it’s currently written,” wrote the NRA’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, on the group’s Web site. “So, why is this being called a gun-control bill? … [T]he biggest reason the media’s calling this ‘gun control’ is because they’re desperate to report on a gun-control victory in Congress.”

The only vocal opposition in the House came from Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican. Mr. Paul, who is seeking his party’s 2008 presidential nomination, described the bill as “a flagrantly unconstitutional expansion of restriction on the exercise of the right to bear arms protected under the Second Amendment.”

The bill will now move to the Senate, which is expected to pass it and send it to President Bush.

Negotiations between Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, and the NRA helped bring the bill to fruition. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, an advocate of gun-control restrictions, also helped garner support for the bill.

“This is good policy that will save lives,” said Mrs. McCarthy, New York Democrat.

The NRA is claiming some legislative victories in negotiating the final bill. For instance, the bill’s language would automatically restore the purchasing rights of military veterans who were diagnosed with mental ailments as part of the process of obtaining disability benefits. Mr. LaPierre said the Clinton administration put about 80,000 such veterans into the criminal background-check system.

The legislation also provides an appeals outline process for those who feel they have been improperly included in the system. It also prohibits NICS funds from being used to promote other gun-regulation measures.

“It was necessary to make some accommodations to address the concerns of gun owners,” said Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat and House Judiciary Committee chairman.

However, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a group that supports gun-ownership restrictions, said it hoped Congress will use the bill’s passage to build support for extended background checks on all gun sales.

{bullet} This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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