President Obama expressed frustration that Thursday’s shooting in Oregon would likely not spur Congress to pass legislation geared at reducing gun violence.
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“This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America. We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction,” he said during his address from the White House briefing room Thursday night.
Congress’ last big push on big-ticket gun control legislation came in 2013, with Sens. Joe Manchin, D-Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Va., responding to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut by crafting a bill that would have expanded background checks for online sales and gun shows.
But it still faced resistance from conservative groups and the National Rifle Association, and did not clear the Senate, nor was it expected to clear the Republican-controlled House.
Since Manchin-Toomey, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have continued to push new legislation, but all have been, at some point or another in the legislative process, become stalled.
MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM REFORM
A proposal from Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., a psychologist by trade, would add psychiatric beds and improve access to mental health care across the country. The measure, which has bipartisan support and 128 cosponsors, was first introduced in 2013 in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newton. Before the Oregon shooting Thursday, Murphy wrote a letter to House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders urging them to take up the bill. "Millions of American families are demanding that we move forward," said Murphy in an interview. "Having more access to treatment can certainly help in these kinds of situations." A spokesperson for the Energy and Commerce Committee said Chairman Fred Upton, R-Michigan, “intends to move Dr. Murphy’s bill," which does not yet have a markup date.
Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., introduced a bill that would, in part, change medical privacy laws to help families have more information about mentally ill loved ones, in August 2015. Both senators had experienced mass shootings in their home states: a July shooting at a Lafayette, Louisiana, movie theater, and the Sandy Hook massacre. The bill was introduced to a key committee in August and will be discussed in hearings on mental health beginning later this month. "If I mention the need to address issues of mental health [in Louisiana], heads start to nod yes," Cassidy told ABC in a phone interview. "And it cuts across all socioeconomic – nonpartisan – lines. Everyone there has been touched by someone whose life has been totally messed up or whose family’s been messed up by mental illness."
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the number-two Senate Republican, introduced a bill in August backed by the National Rifle Association that would encourage states to send the FBI the records of at least 90 percent of the people they know have serious mental health issues. A Cornyn aide said he is working to line up co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle and is optimistic the House will introduce companion legislation.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., teamed up with his cousin, actress Amy Schumer, to introduce a bill in August that would create rewards for states that submit all necessary records into the background check system. They also called for the Department of Justice to write a report comparing all states’ standards for involuntary commitment for mental health issues. The Schumers’ push came after the Louisiana shooting that occurred at a showing of Amy Schumer’s movie “Trainwreck.”
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., introduced legislation in August that would expand background checks to all gun sales and urge states to submit more records of prohibited purchasers to the National Instant Check System (NICS). Her bill “definitely the best example in our opinion of the opportunity to save lives by keeping guns out of the wrong hands and expanding background checks,” Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told reporters on a conference call today.
Reps. Peter King, R-N.Y., and Mike Thompson, D-Calif., introduced background check legislation that has received bipartisan support, but not enough to make it through Congress. The measure would expand background checks to cover all commercial firearms sales. Gross said the bill doesn’t go as far as Speier’s bill “but would also do a lot of good.” Thompson and 146 other members of Congress wrote a letter to House Speaker John Boehner Thursday before the shooting urging him to hold a vote on the background check bill and other legislation.