A gun bill to fix previous gun bills

  • 21 November 2017
  • NormanL
A gun bill to fix previous gun bills

Congress has come up with another gun bill that, its bipartisan backers say, will address gaps in current background check laws to help prevent future mass shootings. It seems rather tame. But if past history is any guide, it might not make much difference:

As far as legislative responses to mass shootings go, this one at first glance seems pretty harmless. For evidence, look at the air of disappointment with which its Democratic sponsors unveiled it. "It's no secret that I believe much more needs to be done. But this bill will make sure that thousands of dangerous people are prevented from buying guns," said sponsor Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

Murphy had introduced a bill in late October to actually expand background checks. Feinstein likewise demanded more background checks after the Vegas shooting to compliment her proposed ban on bump stocks. The Fix NICS Act does none of this.

Instead it would require every federal agency, within a year, to create a plan to do better job of handing over records to the federal background check system. The bill would deny bonuses to these agencies' political appointees should they fail to come up with a plan or otherwise fail to comply with it.

The bill would also prioritize certain grants to states that draft similar plans.

This is pretty weak sauce, so it's far from clear that it'll be effective at encouraging more compliance. A similar effort 10 years ago—the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007—obviously failed to prevent the murders in Sutherland Springs.

Still, things could be far worse:

...the Fix NICS Act is far preferable to some of the other gun control measures bandied about since the October 1 shooting in Las Vegas. Several days after that shooting, a bipartisan House bill was introduced that would retroactively criminalize not only bump stocks—the obscure weapon modification used by Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock—but also any device that increases a semiautomatic weapon's rate of fire. A few weeks after that, another bipartisan House bill was unveiled that would require background checks for the purchase of bump stocks.

The fire and ire behind those bills seems to have cooled substantially in recent weeks. Could they pick up momentum in the future? Of course. And that's why gun rights advocates have to be alert to what Congress does on any of these bills.

But as for a fix of the existing reporting system, it's mostly tame, even if it's long term chances of preventing future mass shootings isn't great...because no law, no matter how carefully crafted, can prevent human error. Or guard against human incompetence.