Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin Might Resurrect Failed Gun Control Bill

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Jun 24, 2015 3:35 PM
Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin Might Resurrect Failed Gun Control Bill

Oh my, it’s happening again–or it’s at least being discussed. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) are debating whether to resurrect their failed 2013 gun control bill (via WaPo):

In the wake of the Charleston shooting, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) are considering ways to renew their failed push to pass meaningful gun-control legislation.

In separate interviews Tuesday night, at a reception before a ceremony hosted by Sandy Hook families where Toomey was honored, the senators discussed their desire to find a new way forward.

“We want to make sure we have the votes. Pat’s going to have to, and I’ll work with him, to get some of our colleagues on the Republican side,” Manchin said, adding that he hasn’t talked directly to Toomey about a revival.

Manchin specifically mentioned an effort aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of people diagnosed with mental illness.

Though the effort is far from being fully formed, Toomey also said he’s looking for opportunities to reintroduce something related to combating gun violence.

“What I’m trying to figure out is, is there something that could get the support of the 60 votes that we would need in the Senate,” Toomey said. “Joe Manchin was and is a great partner and someone I will continue to work with, and I’m open to exploring what is possible.”

Toomey accepted the Sandy Hook champion award offering no regrets over pushing forward the Manchin-Toomey bill, saying he’d “do it again in a heartbeat.”

With regards to mental health, I totally agree that the mentally unstable should not have access to firearms. Yet, there’s a problem concerning reporting and documenting people who have serious issues.

If Aaron Alexis–the Navy Yard shooter–had been properly reported to Navy authorities about his mental state, his “authorization to access secure facilities and information would have been revoked,” according to the Navy review. The shooting could have been prevented.

James Holmes sought three mental health professionals before he entered a movie theater, which was also a gun-free zone, and unleashed a frenzy of senseless violence. He was already a subject of concern at the University of Colorado, where he was studying to get his Ph.D. in neuroscience; campus police ran a background check on him while he was there.

First, there are some issues regarding treatment and care. Sarah Kliff, who was at the Washington Post at the time, wrote in December of 2012 that access to mental health care is the worst among our medical services, that most of the money is spent on pills and outpatient care, and that a vast majority of mental health patients refuse to seek care. Partially, it’s due to financial costs, but most said they thought their condition would improve on its own.

"I wanted to solve the problem on my own” was a common response.

Second, Kliff added that a majority of states have authorized the reporting of mental health records into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The problem is that Congress cannot force states to submit reports on the mental health of their respective residents into NICS:

Via WaPo: Each state law has a bit of a different flavor to it. Alabama, for example, only requires reporting of an involuntarily commitment if there is "evidence that the person has a history of inappropriate use of firearms or poses a threat to use firearms inappropriately." In Hawaii, health-care providers and public health authorities are responsible for providing information in cases where the county police chief requests it. Illinois requires immediate reporting to the state police when a person has been adjudicated as a "mental defective," as defined by federal regulations.

The federal government does not have the constitutional authority to require state agencies to report data. The most it can do is offer funding — or withhold dollars — in an attempt to entice states to participate, just as they did with the law after the Virginia Tech shooting.

This is similar to how the federal government forced states to raise their drinking age to 21 after the 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act. States who refused were at risk of losing 10 percent of their infrastructure funding concerning federal highways.

So, in one way, if this new bill is aimed at curbing the mentally ill from obtaining firearms, I think we should see what these two gentlemen come up with on the Hill. After all, the vast majority of mass shootings in the past 30 years involved perpetrators, where mental health issues were “rampant” among them. At the same time, it’s highly unlikely there will be the votes for any new gun regulations–and I’m not holding my breath that such proposals will be favorable to us who support Second Amendment rights.

Yet, the discussion has to start somewhere. We have to figure out a way to keep the mentally ill from gaining access to guns, while respecting the Constitution and doctor-patent confidentiality.