- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2014

The U.S. House on Thursday passed legislation to provide an additional $20 million to incentivize states to submit more records into the federal instant background-check system, handing gun-control advocates a modest win on the issue after a series of high-profile defeats at the federal level.

The amendment to a broader spending bill would bring National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) grant funding to about $78 million. The 2014 level is $59 million, up from $18 million in fiscal 2013. It passed by a vote of 260-145, with one member voting “present.”

Proponents of boosting the federal system say prodding states to turn over more records is an easy way to increase the effectiveness of the checks, while opponents say more of an emphasis should be placed on the federal prosecution of gun crimes.

Democratic Reps. Mike Thompson of California, Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut and Mike Quigley of Illinois, along with GOP Reps. Peter T. King of New York, Joe Heck of Nevada, and Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania authored the amendment.

“Our national criminal background-check system is only as good as the data you put in it, and right now all the information isn’t getting into the system,” the six representatives said in a joint statement after the vote. “When this happens, we can’t enforce the law, and criminals, domestic abusers, or dangerously mentally ill individuals who otherwise wouldn’t pass a background check can slip through the cracks and buy guns.”

In the wake of the December 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Conn., ambitious proposals to ban certain kinds of semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines and increase gun-purchase background checks to virtually all gun sales failed in the U.S. Senate in April 2013. While the percentage of private sellers who fall into the so-called “gun-show loophole” is in dispute, right now only federally licensed dealers are required to perform the checks.

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Advocates are now using the shooting spree last week in Isla Vista, California, that left six people dead and to renew a halted push for broader federal gun legislation.

“The tragic and horrific shooting in Santa Barbara last week was the latest in a series of reminders of the urgent need to act,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Mrs. Pelosi on Thursday called on the House to pass a bill to expand gun-purchase background checks and invest in mental health services. Mr. Thompson is also leading a group of Democratic congressmen in rolling out new mental health legislation Friday in response to the Isla Vista shootings.

Rep. Timothy Murphy, Pennsylvania Republican, has also been pushing a sweeping overhaul of the federal mental health system that would clarify privacy laws so that doctors and mental health professionals can inform family members of people who need help and increases access to psychiatric beds, among other provisions.

The bill has attracted nearly 100 co-sponsors, about a third of whom are Democrats. But earlier this month, Rep. Ron Barber, Arizona Democrat, rolled out a more targeted bill that boosts funding for veterans and active-duty service members and provides grants for schools and communities to create their own mental health programs, among other things.

While the gun debate has largely played out along ideological lines, both sides have agreed that addressing access to mental health services must the competing bills on mental health. But the bill from Mr. Barber, who was wounded in January 2011 while appearing with then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at a constituent event in Arizona, has attracted more than 40 co-sponsors, all of them Democrats — potentially imperilling the prospects for either full measure to advance in the GOP-controlled House.

Mr. Thompson’s office said the legislation to be unveiled Friday “complements the legislative efforts to improve mental health system while also focusing on gun-violence prevention.”

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