ABC News’ John R. Parkinson reports:
In the wake of the recent Tucson shootings, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, today called on the chairman of the panel to hold hearings on gun safety, but the committee’s top Republican, Lamar Smith, says that the timing is “inappropriate” and could have an “prejudicing” effect on Jared Loughner’s ongoing criminal proceedings.
“We fully recognize and appreciate the sensitivity of the subjects raised by the recent tragedy in Tucson in which our colleague, Gabrielle Giffords, was shot and 18 others were wounded or killed, including members of her staff, a Federal judge, and several other citizens,” the letter states. “However, we also believe it is not only possible, but imperative that Congress review the relevant issues in a civil and objective matter.”
Among the issues the group would like to review in the hearing, high-capacity ammunition magazines, mental health records of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and illegal drug use in the database.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, responded to the letter in a statement, saying that he believes it would be inappropriate to hold hearings so quickly after the Tucson shooting because it could interfere with Loughner’s prosecution.
“I appreciate the Minority’s interest in the NICS program. And the Judiciary Committee should, at the appropriate time, undertake a review of the NICS system as a part of our oversight of Justice Department programs. But to undertake such a review in the context of the tragic shooting in Arizona, as the Minority suggests, could have the unintended effect of prejudicing the ongoing criminal proceedings against Loughner in which his mental status is likely to be a key issue,” Smith states. “Jared Loughner has not been found to be mentally ill. It is inappropriate for Congress to hold hearings on NICS that presume otherwise while Loughner is facing trial.”
Conyers, however, says that the shooting in Tucson only proves the urgency of the need to hold hearings.
“It is more important than ever that we examine our gun safety laws and regulations,” Conyers said in a statement accompanying the letter’s release. “It is simply common sense to limit the availability of high capacity magazines, and ensure that individuals banned by law from owning firearms are, in fact, prevented from buying guns.”
Joining Conyers in signing the letter were all other 15 Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, including Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., a close friend of Giffords. The others who signed the letter include Reps. Howard Berman, D-Calif., Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., Bobby Scott, D-Va., Melvin Watt, D-N.C., Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, Maxine Waters, D-Calif., Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Henry “Hank” Johnson, D-Ga., Pedro Pierluisi, D-PuertoRico, Michael Quigley, D-Ill., Judy Chu, D-Calif., Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Linda Sanchez, D-Calif.