The National Rifle Association, which has opposed virtually all of President Obama’s proposed gun control package, swiftly endorsed a bill rolled out Wednesday intended to strengthen the federal background check system and keep guns out of the hands of those deemed mentally ill.
Four senators — two Republicans and two Democrats — unveiled the legislation that would clarify the circumstances under which someone loses the right to have a gun when they’re judged mentally ill.
The bill introduced by Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona, along with Democrats Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska, would expand the definition of those adjudicated “mentally incompetent” to include those judged to be a danger to themselves or others, found not guilty in a criminal case by reason of insanity, and requires involuntary outpatient treatment by a psychiatric hospital, among other provisions.
“This bill will create accurate definitions of those who pose serious threats and should be barred from the ability to buy or possess a firearm, while protecting the rights of law abiding citizens and veterans,” said Chris W. Cox, the National Rifle Association’s chief lobbyist. “This legislation will significantly improve the National Instant Check System, which is critically needed.”
Mr. Graham conceded that there are a lot of emotions surrounding the issue.
“But I am hopeful this is one area where we can find tremendous bipartisan support to fix what I think is a gaping gap in our law,” he said.
Mr. Begich said that not only does the bill create a clear definition on mental incompetence, but it strengthens rights for people with mental health illnesses as well, as the definition only includes individuals who are committed to treatment involuntarily. It does not apply to someone in a mental institution for observation or someone who voluntarily admits themselves to a psychiatric hospital. People can also regain their right to own a firearm once they have recovered from their mental illness.
“Hopefully, as we go on in this debate, this is one of those bills that could move forward and pass the Senate as well as the House and move on,” Mr. Graham said.
The announcement comes a day before the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider four gun-related measures, including one on background checks being negotiated by Democratic Sens. Charles E. Schumer of New York and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, as well as Republicans Mark Kirk of Illinois and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
“Tom Coburn is a good friend, and anything that Tom Coburn thinks is a good idea, I will certainly look at closely,” Mr. Graham said. “If they can ever reach a bipartisan agreement about the problem with the background checks, I would 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.”
The offices of neither Mr. Schumer, who is carrying the bill, nor Mr. Coburn immediately responded to a request for comment Wednesday.