FACTS ABOUT NICS -- (House of Representatives - October 31, 2007)
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentlewoman from New York (Mrs. McCarthy) is recognized for 5 minutes.
Mrs. McCARTHY of New York. Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond to some inaccurate information being spread on H.R. 2640, the NICS Improvement Amendments Act. As you know, Federal law prohibits nine groups of individuals from obtaining a firearm. One such group includes individuals who are determined to be mentally ill or who were committed to a mental institution. These determinations and commitments are made in accordance with the State law and always in accordance with due process. One purpose of H.R. 2640 is to ensure that information on these people make it into the Federal gun background check system.
According to officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs, VA officials make no determination or commitment regarding the legal mental health status of any of our veterans. However, some groups continue to believe that the VA is sending data to the NICS system on veterans who do not meet the disqualification of gun rights.
To ensure our veterans are not losing their gun rights, I included several protective provisions in H.R. 2640. These provisions ensure two things. First, the VA will only provide records on veterans determined by the same procedures that apply to nonveterans in regards to mental health. Second, they require that the removal from NICS of a veteran's records that do not meet the law's standards.
The intent and purpose of these sections is clear. NICS should only have information on veterans disqualified because they were legally determined to be mentally ill or involuntarily committed to a mental institution. The VA will not transfer information on veterans who just were treated for posttraumatic syndrome or who have a VA disability rating based on some mental health problem that does not reach the legal threshold of mental illness within the State.
In addition, I recognize that mental illness is not necessarily a permanent impediment. Since the State made the initial determination of mental illness, that State should be able to remove that determination. H.R. 2640 contains a section to address this section.
If a State elects to receive funds authorized by H.R. 2640, it must establish a procedure to review and, if appropriate, reverse mental health status. A veteran or any other individual will be able to apply to a State court, board, commission or any other lawful authority. That authority would review the person's situation. It is up to the State to set up and determine how the procedure will operate in accordance with due process. I expect that a State would use the same process that it uses to make the initial determination or commitment.
H.R. 2640 does not change how a person is found to be disqualified from obtaining or possessing a gun. The language and procedures of the Gun Control Act of 1968 remain in effect. The bill does, however, insist that NICS receives only records on disqualified persons, whether a veteran or nonveteran.
H.R. 2640 would also allow States to establish procedures that permit a person disqualified on the basis of legal mental illness to prove to the State that he or she no longer poses a danger to society.
I believe that H.R. 2640 is fair and it is balanced. I am hoping the other body will soon approve the bill so that the States will be encouraged to provide information that improves the background check system on gun purchases. This was a bill that was worked out together here in the House. It had strong bipartisan support. If the bill had been placed when it was first passed in the year 2002, there is a possibility that Mr. Cho from Virginia Tech would not have been able to obtain a gun and commit the unfortunate murders that he did.
Mr. Speaker, it is common sense that when you work with the NRA, and certainly those that consider me a fair person on reducing gun violence in this country, that we need to get the other body to pass this bill so we can save lives.
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