January 12, 2011 1:31 pm ET - by Alex Lawson & Chris Brown
If any consensus has emerged about the tragic shootings in Tucson last weekend, it is that Jared Lee Loughner, or anyone with a similar history of dangerous mental illness, should not have been able to purchase a gun. But that consensus would have to exclude the right-wing gun lobbyist organization Gun Owners of America (GOA), which continues to fight any measure aimed at preventing the dangerously mentally ill from purchasing firearms.
Since the Gun Control Act of 1968, there have been legal mechanisms to keep guns out of the hands of the dangerously mentally ill. Unfortunately, there are still huge gaps in the system, as the Arizona shooting and the 2007 case of Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho demonstrate.
Cho murdered 32 people with multiple firearms purchased after passing two background checks even though he had been declared dangerously mentally ill by a state court. The legal ability to block firearm purchases by the dangerously mentally ill is meaningless if the system to do so is broken.
Congress and President George W. Bush agreed to act in 2007 to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), hoping to prevent another Seung-Hui Cho. This has not gone far enough to fix the problem since, faced with opposition from groups like the GOA, Congress has not put the resources in place to maintain a functioning background check system. In FY 2010 and 2011 only 5.3 percent of authorized spending for background check improvements was appropriated.
Arizona estimates the state has 121,700 records of individuals with disqualifying mental illness, but only 4,465 were submitted to the NICS database from the beginning of 2008 to October 2010. Because of this non-functioning system, Jared Lee Loughner was able to walk into the Sportsman's Warehouse in Tuscon, pass a background check and purchase the gun that would be used to murder six people.
This is exactly the type of "system" that Gun Owners of America wants. Speaking on Glenn Beck's Fox News show on February 16th, 2009, Executive Director Larry Pratt slammed efforts to have background checks take into account dangerous mental health diagnoses.
On September 24, 2009, Pratt compared a background check system that tries to keep guns out of the hands of the dangerously mentally ill to Nazi Germany:
ED SCHULTZ: I do believe psychiatrists and psychologists should have the power to deny — you shouldn't own a firearm.
PRATT: That's a dictatorial power. They use that in Nazi German. They use that in the Soviet Union. They used it in Cuba. That doesn't have any place in America.
At the April 19th, 2010, Open Carry March, after Pratt again compared mental health background checks to Nazi Germany, he told the audience that no identification should be required to purchase a firearm and promised to make that position a reality:
PRATT: Shouldn't have to have any ID to buy a gun anywhere. That's something we're going to be taking care of.
GOA declined to comment on this post but did refer us to their editorial in yesterday's USA Today. In the column, Erich Pratt, Director of Communications for GOA, suggests Loughner "had a clean record," ignoring his troubling history at his community college, rejection from the army and his arrest record. More cynically, Pratt goes on to fault the background check system that his own organization has opposed and worked to undermine at every opportunity, continuing the time-honored tactic of knee-capping the mailman and then complaining that the mail is late.
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