From Peter Defazio Oregon:
Thanks for letting me know your concerns about potential gun control restrictions following several recent high profile shootings including one at the Clackamas Town Center where a legally armed citizen intervened and may have prevented further loss of life. I appreciate hearing from you.
As a fellow gun owner, I have a strong record of supporting the Second Amendment rights of law abiding citizens to own firearms for sport and personal safety. I also have a strong record of working to keep guns out of the hands of prohibited individuals and will continue to do.
The shooter at the Clackamas Town Center stole the gun he used from a friend who had legally obtained it. The Newtown shooter obtained the firearms he used from a parent who legally purchased the guns but who failed to secure them from an extremely mentally unstable young adult in the home. The New York shooter obtained the guns he used from a straw purchaser. We need to look at the conditions under which these guns were obtained illegally and find ways to prevent that from happening in the future including increasing penalties for people making straw purchases where the guns are used and result in the loss of life.
After the shootings at Sandy Hook last year, President Obama appointed a Task Force to come up with recommendations to help prevent future acts of gun violence. The recommendations fell within two groups: 23 executive orders, and a set of broadly stated but non-specific legislative proposals.
Like many, I had a lot of concerns when I heard he was signing 23 executive orders, and worried they might exceed the authority of the President. But, after reviewing them, I don't believe they do.
A number of the executive orders are focused on enhancing and improving mental health data used in the National Instant Check System (NICs) to better ensure that mentally unstable individuals can't purchase firearms. I was a strong supporter of passage of the NICs to help keep guns out of the hands of prohibited individuals, but the system is only as good as the information in it. Reportedly, 17 states do not provide any mental health records to the NICs and 21 states have reported fewer than 100 mental health records due to privacy concerns and other barriers. These barriers in reporting mental health information have had tragic consequences and must be addressed.
For instance, while the theater shooter in Aurora, Colorado had received multiple referrals for mental health services, Colorado law only required reporting cases that had been adjudicated. So, the shooter was able to purchase firearms that were used to kill and injure more than 50 people. Additionally, officials considered the shooter in Tucson, Arizona potentially dangerous and prohibited him from returning to school until he was cleared by a mental health professional. But, concerns about his mental health weren't reported to authorities and he was able to pass a background check and purchase a semi-automatic handgun that was used to kill or injure 19 people. And, despite a history of mental illness that should have prevented the Virginia Tech shooter from purchasing a firearm, he was able to purchase firearms from 2 licensed dealers that were used to kill or injure almost 60 people because, at the time, Virginia law did not require reporting records of individuals receiving outpatient mental health services.
While it's extremely important that we address the barriers to reporting mental health records, the issues around privacy are extraordinarily complicated and controversial and won't be easy to address. These issues will likely require legislative action to fully address.
The President's executive orders also directed agencies to review standards for safe storage devices. I agree that we need to do more to encourage the use of, and to help people acquire, safe storage devices.
The shootings at Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon, and in Sandy Hook, Connecticut involved firearms that were legally obtained and owned by a parent that knew they had a mentally unstable young adult living in the home, and yet they failed to fully secure the firearms. In both instances, severely mentally disturbed youth were able to gain access to firearms in the home, kill their parents, and carry out mass school shootings. I have previously introduced legislation to provide a tax credit for the purchase of a gun safe or other safe storage device and I will be reintroducing that legislation soon.
Many have said that in order to reduce gun violence in schools we must have armed security personnel on site. One of the President's executive orders provides financial assistance for schools that want to hire armed security guards or school resource officers. I am very supportive of helping to provide funding for schools that want to hire resource officers, as a number of the schools here in southwest Oregon have done.
One of the President's executive orders calls on the Senate to confirm his nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Several of his executive orders direct federal agencies to do research into the causes of gun violence. In the aggregate, I don't think these orders exceed Presidential authority or present a threat to law abiding citizens.
However, the second part of his recommendations proposed some new legislative restrictions on gun owners including an assault weapons ban, a ban on high capacity magazines, and universal background checks but did not include any specifics.
I voted against the 1994 ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. However, I have long supported enhanced background checks at gun shows. Currently, federal law only requires background checks on purchases from federally licensed firearms dealers at gun shows, but does not apply to private transactions. In 2000, I joined with a majority of Oregon voters in approving Measure #5 which required background checks on all gun purchases at gun shows in the State of Oregon. I believe we should extend that requirement nationwide.
It remains unclear what, if any, legislation can move forward in a deeply divided Congress. The House Republican Leadership has said they will not consider any legislation to prevent gun violence until after the Senate acts. Few people think the assault weapons ban or ban on high capacity magazines will be considered in the House and, perhaps, not even in the Senate. It's more likely Congress would consider legislation to enhance background checks or improve reporting requirements on mental health records. But, again, the House Republican leadership will wait to see what, if anything, gets passed out of the Senate first.
Again, thanks for your message, I hope you will continue to let me know your views on issues before the Congress.
Rep. Peter DeFazio
Fourth District, OREGON
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