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Letters to the 107th Congress

September 10, 2002

The Honorable Patrick Leahy
Chairman
Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Mr. Chairman:

We understand that the Committee may soon consider S.2826, a bill to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) introduced on July 30, 2002 by Senators Charles Schumer, Larry Craig, Edward Kennedy and John McCain. I am writing on behalf of the American Bar Association to express our strong support for this much-needed, carefully crafted legislation. We urge the members of the Committee to act promptly to approve S.2826 without extraneous amendments so that it may soon be considered by the full Senate.

S.2826 is a bipartisan effort to strengthen enforcement of existing law. It simply seeks to enforce the 1968 Gun Control Act by requiring states to automate records and provide information to the FBI regarding any individual who is barred under the Act from having a gun for which the state maintain the records. The Act lists nine disqualifying factors that would prohibit an individual from possessing a firearm: individuals under indictment or who have been convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year; persons adjudicated mentally incompetent or involuntarily hospitalized; fugitives from justice; unlawful users or addicts of any controlled substance; persons under a court order restraining them from domestic violence; and those convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor. This legislation is needed because the majority of states have done a poor job of automating criminal history and mental health records.

S.2826 has been named the "Our Lady of Peace Act" after a church in Lynbrook, New York, where a disturbed gunman with a history of mental health problems and a restraining order issued against him on behalf of his mother, which went unaccounted during a background check, fatally shot the Reverend Larry Pendes and Eileen Tosner during mass in March 2002. The gunman was able to purchase a firearm two days before the attack because New York and most states do not provide mental health and other disqualifying records to the FBI's NICS database.

While current law has long prohibited anyone with a mental illness from purchasing a firearm, only 17 states provide any records of those involuntarily hospitalized to the background check system, according to a study done by Americans for Gun Safety. The NICS background check system currently lacks state records of an estimated 2.6 million individuals involuntarily hospitalized throughout the United States, according to the General Accounting Office. The status of criminal records data in the NICS system is little more reliable: the typical state has automated only 58 percent of its felony criminal conviction records. Thirteen states have no automated records for those with domestic violence restraining orders, and fifteen states have no automated records for domestic violence misdemeanants.

S.2826 seeks to enforce existing law by requiring states to automate their criminal background records and authorizes $250 million for five years to help states comply. The proposed legislation has been carefully thought out and drafted to narrowly address the issue of how to achieve a NICS system that fulfills its responsibility under current law to conduct a reliable background check prior to sales of firearms. We believe that the approach taken by S.2826 enjoys broad support across party lines. We urge the members of the Committee to promptly approve S.2826 and to report it without adding complicating amendments so that it may soon be acted on by the full Senate.

Sincerely,

Robert D. Evans
Director, Governmental Affairs Office

cc: Members of the Committee

107th Congress Letters Home

AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION
Governmental Affairs Office
740 Fifteenth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
ph: 202-662-1760
fx: 202-662-1762

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