Normative Narratives

Transparency Thursday: Inching Our Way Towards Meaningful Gun Regulations

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“In a possible harbinger of bipartisan support for a small piece of legislation to curb gun violence, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved a measure that would make the practice of illegally buying a gun for someone else a felony, and increase penalties for the crime.

The measure, which addresses so-called straw purchasing, passed the committee by 11 to 7; the only Republican to vote in favor was Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa. Mr. Grassley’s nod on the measure, which already had two Republican co-sponsors, was significant because he is the most senior member of the committee. The panel is comprised of 10 Democrats and 8 Republicans.”

This is a good first step, imposing stricter penalties for so called “straw” gun purchases. It is a bit alarming that only one Republican Senator voted in favor of this measure, considering a recent Gallup Poll (1/23/13) showed an overwhelming majority of both Democrats (81%) and Republicans (75%) support tougher penalties for such crimes. But still, the bill passed with support from the most senior Republican Senator on the committee.

Still, harsher penalties for “straw” gun purchases amount to only a partial fix. “Most gun safety experts say they believe that straw purchasing and background check measures work in tandem. A failure by Congress to pass more than a modified straw purchasing bill would be a victory for the National Rifle Association, which opposes each measure.”

The same committee will vote on universal background checks for potential gun buyers; perhaps a longer waiting period in order to obtain the necessary information will be part of newly proposed laws. The same Gallup poll showed even greater bipartisan support for “requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales” (97% of Democrats and 92% of Republicans agree with such measures). I would argue not only should there be a criminal background check, but also a mental health evaluation, we will have to wait and see what is proposed in future bills. Hopefully the committee represents those it was elected by, and comes up with a working background check / “straw” purchase system to ensure that responsible adults can enjoy their guns while those who are not responsible enough (due to criminal or mental health history) cannot obtain guns.

I would argue that “straw” purchases and universal background checks both rely on better overall mental healthcare. Often, it is the poor who cannot afford mental healthcare; these people may then turn to violence because they are not getting the help they need. By no means should having a psychological disorder prohibit someone from owning a gun, but it should raise a red-flag that makes anyone reviewing the case pay special attention to exactly what the condition is and if it is accompanied by a history of violent and/or anti-social behavior.

“The committee is also set to consider the reauthorization of a program that provides matching grants for school safety improvements, as well as a measure that would greatly expand background checks for gun buyers, with the goal of preventing sales to people with criminal records or a history of mental illness.”

Mental health and criminal background checks must be viewed on a case-by-case basis; this may be expensive and time consuming, but it is the price we must to pay for responsible gun ownership.

While criminal records are readily available, it is harder to get information on a person’s mental health history. A “positive externality” of the Affordable Care Act is that it will expand mental health coverage to many American’s who currently do not qualify for such coverage. This will make meaningful universal background checks more feasible. The Affordable Care Act, starting in 2014, will help those previously uninsured get insurance not only for physical illness, but also for mental health disorders:

“…it can be difficult for people with mental health and substance use disorders to find affordable, quality coverage in the health insurance marketplace.  Right now, estimates show that one-fifth to one-third of the uninsured are people with mental and substance use disorders.

  • Starting in 2014, substance abuse or mental illness can no longer be used by insurers to deny coverage as a “pre-existing condition” – and insurers also won’t be able to use those conditions to raise your premiums.
  • Also in 2014, mental health and substance use disorder services will be part of the essential benefits package, a set of health care service categories that must be covered by certain plans, including all insurance policies that will be offered through the Exchanges, and Medicaid.

These reforms all work to make the health insurance marketplace a more accessible, affordable place for people with mental health and substance abuse disorders.”

Mental healthcare coverage and a mental health evaluation for purchasing a firearm are two different yet related issues. Better overall mental health coverage will afford someone reviewing a background check more information than they would otherwise be able to obtain from a single evaluation. Both are necessary steps to ensure guns are only used by responsible people.

I hope congress also re-authorizes the grant for school safety. If cash-strapped municipalities receive federal assistance, they will have more money to station armed police officers at all schools (possibly more than one depending on the size of the student body).

It seems that the Senate is enacting (or at least considering) many of the common-sense gun laws advocated here at Normative Narratives in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy (Gallup Polls show widespread support for many of these measures across the political spectrum). Non-gun owners can feel safer knowing there are stricter gun laws, while responsible gun owners can rest more easily knowing they have no fear of “having their guns taken away” (which was really never a threat to begin with). 

Again, this is the first step of many common sense gun laws needed to make America a safer place. No amount of gun laws will ever end all gun-related violence; there will always be people who are hell-bent on causing pain and no law or regulation will be able to stop them. But by putting these common sense gun laws in place, gun-related violence WILL go down (not may, will). These laws will cost money, but that is the cost of having “the right to bear arms” in contemporary America.

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2 thoughts on “Transparency Thursday: Inching Our Way Towards Meaningful Gun Regulations

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  2. Pingback: Transparency Thursday: Remembering the Victim’s of the Boston Marathon Bombing–Creating a Legacy of Peace | Normative Narratives

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