CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECK IMPROVEMENT ACT -- (Senate - December 19, 2007)
Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, later today, Senator Schumer will bring up the Criminal Background Check Improvement Act, which is an important piece of legislation. When this bill was originally hotlined, we asked that it be held so that we could discuss the improvements to the bill.
This bill came out of the tragedy at Virginia Tech. It is important that the American people understand that what we are changing in this bill would not have prevented what happened at Virginia Tech. What happened to the individuals there was because the law we have on the books was not followed by the State of Virginia. They recognized that shortly thereafter and have made corrective action to it.
What is also important to note is that under the previous legislation we have had, over $400 million a year was authorized to help the States implement the programs so that somebody who is truly a danger to themselves or others or has been admitted to a mental institution and considered mentally defective--that is a term of the bureaucracy--is not allowed to purchase a gun. We all agree to that in this country. So when you don't follow the law, the laws don't work. Consequently, the families are suffering great grief at this time because the law wasn't followed.
Too often, the first reaction of Congress is to hurry up and pass a bill. There are and have been in this bill some good ideas. But there were some bad ideas. The idea of holding the bill to be able to work with those who are offering the bill to get improvements has come about. The principle is this: As we protect people from the dangers of weapons by withholding both criminals and those people who constitute a threat to themselves and others, we can't do that if we are going to step on the rights of those who have a right and who are not in that category.
I wish to take a moment to thank Senator Schumer for his hard work and Elliot of his staff for his hard work and to recognize my staff, Jane Treat and Brooke Bacak and others on my staff who worked through the last couple of months to improve this bill. We have come out to make sure those people, veterans in this country who go out and defend, with their lives, bodies, and their futures, our rights, aren't inappropriately losing their rights under this legislation.
It is interesting for the American people to know that at this time, if you are a veteran and you come home with a closed head injury and you resolve that, then, in fact, by the time you wake up and recover over a year or 2-year period, you will have lost all your rights to bear an arm to be able to go hunting, to be able to skeet shoot, to be able to hunt with your grandchildren, without any notification whatsoever that you have lost that right. That is the present law. That is what is happening.
We have 140,000 veterans with no history of mental deficiency, no history of being dangerous to themselves or others, who have lost, without notice, their right to go hunting, to skeet shoot, to have that kind of outing in this wonderful country of ours in a legal, protected sense. What this bill does is it attempts to address that by giving them an opportunity for relief. It mandates that, first of all, they are notified if that happens to them so that they know they are losing their rights. What a tragedy it would be if a veteran who lost his rights but doesn't know it becomes incarcerated under a felony for hunting with his grandson because it is illegal for him to own, handle, or transmit a weapon? That is not what we intended to do in this Congress some 10 years ago. Yet that is the real effect of what is happening.
Consequently, we are at a point now where we have agreed with the fact that we want to make sure--and we want to put the resources through this authorization--it covers those who could be a danger to themselves and others, and we are going to help the States implement this law, the law on the books, by authorizing significant sums to do this. It is not a new authorization; $400 million was authorized before, but the appropriators didn't appropriate it. They chose to make a higher priority. The most ever appropriated under this, I think, was $23 million a year.
So, in fact, what we want to do now is say we mean it, which means when it comes to appropriations time, this authorization will have no effect unless, in fact, we appropriate the money to the States to carry out this notification system. It is something we can and must do. It shows that when we work together to solve the problems and protect the future and honor the Constitution, the rights under the Constitution, we can do that if people of good faith and of good intent work together to solve that.
My compliments to Senator Schumer and his staff and Hendrik Van Der Vaart on my staff for the hours and hours we have put in to make sure this happened.
A couple other key points. Sometimes the bureaucracy delays whether or not you are on this list. So we have said that, at the end of the year, if they can't decide, it is going to be adjudicated that you cannot have a gun and you will have to prove that you can. That is fair enough, provided we create the means with which you can recover the cost of that adjudication. So if, in fact, you get to Federal court and you win your case that there is not anything wrong with you, the Federal Government is going to pay your lawyer's fees and return your rights--the rights given to everybody else in this country--return your wrongly denied rights back to you.
Therefore, we really, truly do give access to those who have been injured under this law and, at the same time, protect the rest of the American public from those who could be injured when we don't follow the law.
I also pay tribute to Congresswoman McCarthy. I served with her in the House. She has been dedicated to this issue for years. She suffered a terrible tragedy herself at the hands of somebody who was obviously deranged. This will mark a milestone for one of the things she wanted to accomplish during her service in the Congress.
It is my hope that others will not hold this bill. It is my hope that when it comes appropriations time, the moneys that are necessary to put the people who really are a danger to themselves and others on the national criminal background check, that they will get there, and that those who should not be there will not be there. So it is a balance, a balance for protection, but it is also a balance to preserve rights, especially for our veterans--the very people who continue to protect our rights. They are going to be preserved.
Myself and Senator Schumer sent a letter to the ATF asking them to reconsider some of the wording in their ruling because it puts people in there who should not be. We are hopeful that they recognize that, and that they, because of a bipartisan query, do a rulemaking process that really directs this where it should be. When that happens, we will have finished everything we need to do, except get the dollars appropriated to implement this act.
Again, my hat is off to Senator Schumer and those who have worked tirelessly to get this done. It is with great appreciation for the manner in which it was handled, and it is my hope that we will pass this on and see the great accomplishments of protecting people from those who are a danger to themselves and others.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
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