After the horrific shooting of 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech in April of this year, the debate about gun control once again became a hot-button issue. The country was abuzz with calls for tighter legislation—as well as equal concern for Second Amendment rights. But when it was revealed that the shooter responsible for the largest massacre in our nation’s history should have been disqualified from purchasing guns under federal guidelines, but had been able to purchase his weapons because of Virginia gun laws and lax federal oversight, people became more incensed. Many demanded clearer guidelines on background checks and better communication between the states and the federal government.
Now, it seems that proposed legislation, worked out between some Democrats and the National Rifle Association (NRA), could produce the first federal gun control legislation since 1994. And most of the interested parties seem to be pleased so far. As a recent Washington Post article explains it, states would be offered monetary incentives to keep the federal background database up to date, but also receive penalties for failing to comply. The more thorough background checks would bar individuals with histories of mental illness from purchasing guns, yet individuals (particularly veterans of war who were entered into the system for mental health reasons) could petition their states to have their names removed from the federal database. Furthermore, the government would be permanently banned from charging gun buyers or sellers for background checks, and the federal database would have to be updated often to avoid duplicate records and expunged convictions.
This proposed legislation is a step in the right direction. It will ensure that dangerous individuals do not have easy access to guns, and it seems to have a lot of potential to become federal law. With its passage, perhaps we will see a decline in gun violence nationwide. It may seem a bit too hopeful to some, but I’d be interested to wait and see the results. The House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman, John Dingell, D-Mich., a former NRA board member who led the recent talks surrounding the proposed legislation, was quoted in the Post article as saying, “No law will prevent evildoers from doing evil acts, but this law will help ensure that those deemed dangerous by the courts will not be able to purchase a weapon.” I do hope he’s right.