White House Seeks Immediate Input on Mental Health Gun Prohibitions

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Yesterday’s mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, the second at that location in five years, shocked and appalled us, and our heart goes out to all the people touched by the tragedy.  Like the shooter in so many of the recent mass shootings that we as a nation have witnessed, Ivan Lopez had previously been identified as having severe mental health problems, but he still had access to the gun he used in the shooting.  Once again, we are faced with the possibility that commonsense laws could have prevented this tragedy.  As a result, this shooting only increases our determination to address the legal loopholes that provide access to firearms by dangerous people.

The good news is there is something we can all do right now to help address this problem. In January, the Obama Administration proposed a new rule that will prevent certain dangerously mentally ill people from obtaining access to firearms. The new rule will help states identify the groups of people that are ineligible to purchase or possess guns under federal law, so that they can be reported to the background check system.  While this new rule may not have prevented this particular shooting, it will certainly decrease the risk of similar tragedies.

Federal law prohibits a person from purchasing or possessing guns if he or she has been “committed to a mental institution” or “adjudicated a mental defective.” Until now, many states have been confused about which groups of people are ineligible to purchase or possess guns based on these terms, since the federal law and ATF’s current regulations do not provide much guidance. As a result, many states have not reported the proper people to the database used for firearm purchaser background checks.

In April 2007, this confusion directly resulted in another mass shooting, when Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people and injured 17 others before committing suicide on the college campus in Blacksburg, Virginia. A Virginia special justice had declared Mr. Cho to be “an imminent danger” to himself as a result of mental illness on December 14, 2005, and ordered Mr. Cho to seek outpatient treatment. However, Cho was able to purchase firearms through two licensed dealers after two background checks. While Virginia law at that time required that some mental health records be submitted to the databases used for background checks, it did not require reporting of people committed as outpatients because of confusion about whether the federal law applied.

While many states altered their laws to require the reporting of people like Mr. Cho in the years since Virginia Tech, some states still do not report people committed as outpatients. In fact, as of May 2013, 15 states had each identified less than 100 people that should be prohibited from purchasing a gun on the basis of mental illness altogether. The proposed rule will help change this situation, by clarifying that people who have been ordered by a court to obtain mental health treatment as outpatients are ineligible to purchase or possess firearms under the federal law. People who have been determined to be “incompetent to stand trial” or “guilty but mentally ill” in a criminal case will also be ineligible under the proposed rule. These changes will help prevent people like Seung-Hui Cho from obtaining access to firearms, and will help prevent tragedies like Virginia Tech and Fort Hood.

Public comments on this proposed rule will only be accepted through Monday, April 7. The Law Center applauds the Administration’s efforts to reduce access to firearms by the dangerously mentally ill. Join the Law Center in supporting these efforts by expressing your approval for the proposed rule on the federal regulatory portal here: http://bit.ly/MentalHealthEA.

President Obama: Thank You.

This is what we’ve been waiting for. President Obama outlined bold, courageous, and comprehensive steps to address the devastating gun violence that our communities face every single day – exactly what we asked of him.

Obama’s commitment today – to support federal legislation to fix our background check system and to ban military-style assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines – confirms that we are at a historic moment.

We commend President Obama’s swift and thorough executive actions and the outstanding leadership of Vice President Biden and his task force as essential first steps in addressing the epidemic of gun violence in America. We know that we have a long road ahead to achieve safer communities, and it’s going to take all of us to make real and lasting change. As the President said:

“This will not happen unless the American people demand it.”

That means all of us. President Obama has called on all of us to ask our members of Congress to support the president’s recommendations for real change. If they tell you that they don’t support these measures, ask them, “Why not?” Ask them, “What is more important than keeping our families safe?”

We are responsible for each other. The President and the White House have committed to do their part. It’s imperative that we each do ours.

Find your member of Congress now and make the call: http://bit.ly/myrepresentative

More Determined Than Ever

Today in Washington D.C., we joined survivors of gun violence at a vigil at the White House. Together with our colleagues and many concerned citizens from across the country, we insisted that today IS the day that we as Americans stand up and say we’ve had enough.

Earlier today we asked you to stand with us by calling the White House to demand action from President Obama and our elected leaders. As the phone lines close for the weekend, please also express your outrage by signing this petition.

Sign it now and then pass it on. We need to show that the Americans are united in demanding a plan to end the bloodshed – now.

As we all wrestle with our feelings after this horrific event, we think Mayor Michael Bloomberg may have said it best, so we wanted to share this with you:

With all the carnage from gun violence in our country, it’s still almost impossible to believe that a mass shooting in a kindergarten class could happen. It has come to that. Not even kindergarteners learning their A,B,Cs are safe. We heard after Columbine that it was too soon to talk about gun laws. We heard it after Virginia Tech. After Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek. And now we are hearing it again. For every day we wait, 34 more people are murdered with guns. Today, many of them were five year-olds.

President Obama rightly sent his heartfelt condolences to the families in Newtown. But the country needs him to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem. Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership – not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today. This is a national tragedy and it demands a national response. My deepest sympathies are with the families of all those affected, and my determination to stop this madness is stronger than ever.

Our determination is also stronger than ever. We will continue to tirelessly promote laws that would prevent these kinds of tragedies. We need you, your family members, your friends, and neighbors to all join with us so we CAN enact smart gun laws that save lives.

Sign the petition. Pass it around. Join us in demanding that our leaders defend our safety.

Today Is the Day to Demand Change

We are devastated by news of the shooting today in Newtown, Connecticut and the unspeakable suffering that is occurring there. We cannot imagine what the families are going through now. We should all be appalled by this and should demand swift action.

The most fundamental duty of our government is to protect our communities, especially our innocent children. Despite mass shootings that have shattered families across the country this year, our leaders have repeatedly failed to do anything to prevent future bloodshed.

We cannot stand for this failure any longer. Our children’s lives depend on it.

Our leaders will keep ducking this issue until they hear from all of us. Call the White House now and demand that President Obama tell us what he plans to do about this epidemic.

Call now! 202-456-1414

President Obama needs to show leadership on this issue. While he spoke today about the need for meaningful action, he has yet to take any real steps toward making us safer. Given the 34 murders with guns that happen every day, the president’s failure to lead is unacceptable.

Call the White House now and demand a plan: 202-456-1414

Obama, Honor Gabrielle Giffords with Your Courage

Gabrielle Giffords has announced that she is resigning her seat to focus on recovering from the severe injuries she sustained in the tragic shooting in Arizona last January. She has displayed such grace, strength, and perseverance in her fight to recuperate from her gunshot wound to the head, and yet the President and Congress have still done nothing to support basic improvements to our national background checks system – changes that would prevent countless acts of violence across the country. Furthermore, we agree:

..it would be a disservice to her life and that of the others directly affected by this, and tragedies like it, to ignore the factors that precipitated the violence: the easy access to guns; the availability of accessories such as extended clips that make deadly weapons all the more lethal; and a porous and shoddy regulatory system that too often fails to keep these weapons out of the hands of dangerous or dangerously unstable individuals.

~ Washington Post editorial

We stand united with our allies in the fight to have this issue recognized as an epidemic in our country. Our partners, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said it best in their letter to President Obama (read the full letter below):

Last year, 12,000 Americans were murdered with guns. To put the death toll in perspective, imagine the entire population of a town being murdered over the course of a year. Or a university losing its entire student body, each day bringing 34 new murders. Surely, these events would shock Washington into action. But the grim fact that guns are used to murder 34 people a day is barely discussed in Washington – even though the tragic reality is that many of those lives could have been saved if the federal government had fixed its broken background check system.

We will continue to work tirelessly – with the law on our side – to promote smart guns laws that can, and do, save lives.