More than 100 lawmakers have signed a letter sent to House Speaker John A. Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urging them to block any move to include provisions in spending bills for the next fiscal year that the members say hinder research into the causes of gun violence and the enforcement of gun laws.
The so-called gun “riders,” which have been routinely included in appropriations bills in recent years, include prohibitions on gun control research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and restrictions on law enforcement’s ability to require federally licensed gun dealers to keep inventories.
“[S]uch changes to gun policy must be seriously and properly considered by Congress through the regular order,” the 108 members wrote in a letter dated March 25. “Over the past several years, various appropriations riders related to gun policy have had unintended consequences that could have been prevented had these issues been properly and more thoroughly debated in Congress.”
One signer of the letter was freshman Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty, whose district includes Newtown and the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“It’s unacceptable for members of Congress to slip into must-pass bills controversial provisions that block efforts to reduce gun violence,” said Ms. Esty, who serves as vice chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. “The fact that gun-riders have prohibited federally-funded public health research on the causes and impact of gun violence and have limited efforts to track illegal guns underscores how harmful these under-the-table provisions can be.”
In response to the Sandy Hook school shootings in December 2012, President Obama issued 23 executive actions on gun violence, which included requiring federal law enforcement agencies to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations, publishing data on lost and stolen guns, and directing the CDC to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.
More ambitious proposals to ban military-style, semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines all failed in the U.S. Senate.
The shooting spree at Fort Hood last week has, for the moment, renewed debate about federal gun control legislation, as well as issues surrounding access to weapons for people with mental health issues.
Spc. Ivan Lopez was being diagnosed with mental health issues before he killed three soldiers — identified Friday as Sgt. Danny Ferguson, Sgt. Carlos A. Lazaney and Sgt. Timothy Owens — and wounded 16 other people before taking his own life in a shooting rampage Wednesday at the Texas military base.
Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, Fort Hood’s commanding general, said Friday that Lopez’s mental condition was not the “direct precipitating factor” in the attack a day after he had said the shooter’s mental condition appeared to be an underlying factor.
Before that, Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said there’s “no question” that people with mental health issues should be prevented from owning weapons or being able to purchase weapons.
“We need to continue to look to find a way to keep weapons out of the hands of people who should not have them,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said last week he would like to revisit expanding background checks for gun buys in the wake of the Fort Hood shootings. Legislation to expand the checks fell victim to a filibuster in the Senate last April.
“As I was told today, this young man bought his gun a day or two before he killed these people,” Mr. Reid said this week. “Couldn’t we at least have background checks so that people who are ill mentally, or who are felons, shouldn’t be able to buy guns? Even NRA members, a majority of them, support that so I hope we can bring it back up.”
“I would like to be able to bring it back up. I need some more votes,” he continued.