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NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


NICS IMPROVEMENT AMENDMENTS ACT OF 2007 -- (Extensions of Remarks - June 18, 2007)

* Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. Speaker, I think it is appropriate for the House to approve this bill in the form that it comes before us today.

* As I said at the time, I do not think additional federal legislation dealing with firearms can prevent tragedies such as the killings at Virginia Tech. However, the changes this bill would make would improve the current federal law and are worth making.

* The bill will create incentives for states to submit to the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) legal records about individuals who are ineligible to obtain firearms. This closes a loophole in the current background check system. In addition, and importantly, it will require states and federal agencies to allow individuals to appeal their status if they are currently considered ineligible to acquire firearms. And it will bar agencies from sharing mental health records that are irrelevant to the background check system.

* The bill has been significantly revised since its introduction. As it comes before the House, it would prevent use of federal ``adjudications'' based on medical diagnoses without a finding of dangerousness or mental incapacity. To understand what this means, consider the fact that the NICS currently accepts Veterans' Administration decisions that a veteran or other patient is an ``adjudicated mentally defective'' where there was no ``adjudication'' at all--only a medical diagnosis agreed to as a condition of receiving disability benefits. Veterans have a financial incentive to agree to this determination, and may have done so without expecting to lose their legal rights to acquire firearms.

* The bill as revised would eliminate purely medical records from NICS and allow a person to be prohibited on medical grounds from acquiring a firearm only as a result of a specific finding that he or she is a danger to himself or herself or to other people, or lacks the capacity to manage his or her own affairs. In addition, the revised bill would require all federal agencies that impose mental health adjudications or commitments (such as the VA) to provide a process for ``relief from disabilities.'' That would be a de novo judicial review when an agency denies relief--that is, the court would look at the application on its merits, rather than deferring to the agency's earlier decision.

* Also, under the revised bill a person who is inappropriately committed or declared incompetent by a federal agency would have an opportunity to correct the error--either through the agency, or in court. And the bill would prevent reporting of mental adjudications or commitments by federal agencies when those adjudications or commitments have been removed.

* The substitute would also make clear that if a federal adjudication or commitment has expired or been removed, it would no longer bar a person from possessing or receiving firearms under the Gun Control Act. This actually restores the person's rights, as well as deleting the record from NICS. And States that receive federal funding would also be required to have a program to provide similar relief from erroneous mental adjudications and commitments. And the relief granted by such a state program would remove the federal prohibition on the person possessing or receiving a firearm under the Gun Control Act.

* I think these changes are appropriate and an improvement over current law.


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