Congress

GOP gun bill would crack down on illegal firearms sellers

The federal government would crack down hard on illegal firearms dealers under new legislation aimed at preventing the types of mass shootings that have become more commonplace.

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, is leading the drive to have Washington investigate and prosecute illegal firearm dealers, make available more mental health resources for people at risk of harming themselves or others and push social media sites to share harmful threats made on their platforms with law enforcement.

Cornyn said he decided to introduce this bill in response to four recent mass shootings in Texas, including the El Paso and Odessa shootings in August. Twenty-two people were killed in the August mass shooting in El Paso and seven were killed in the Odessa shooting.

Prospects for this bill’s passage are uncertain. When asked today if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would put any gun-related bill to a vote in front of the full Senate without President Trump’s prior approval, Rick Scott, a Florida Republican, just shook his head.

However, Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican who cosponsored Cornyn’s bill, said “I think [the bill] has a shot ... but I don’t have a crystal ball.”

Democrats, though, were wary. Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat, said that no gun-related bill, including one already passed by the House, will be put to a vote without McConnell’s approval.

“Until he says so, apparently we’re not gonna have a vote on it,” Hirono said, “Everyone should know who’s responsible for holding that, plus so many other good bills.”

To combat gun sales by unlicensed firearm dealers, Cornyn’s bill would create a nationwide task force that would investigate and prosecute these illegal gun sellers. The task force would also prioritize investigating gun buyers who provide false statements for background checks.

Cornyn said the task force would be run through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, yet the bill doesn’t provide any funding for the bureau to establish such a program.

“At this point, [the bill] just prioritizes that out of existing funds, but that’s obviously a conversation we’ll have to have as the bill proceeds,” he said.

Some Democratic senators like Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, however, have been skeptical of bills claiming to prevent mass shootings that don’t include commercial background check provisions, which would require background checks for all commercial sales of firearms, including at gun shows.

Currently, firearms sold by private sellers by gun shows are not subject to background checks.

“If you don’t have a sensible commercial background check … then you don’t have a foundation for a bill,” Manchin said today. “If you are not even willing to put that in [a bill], then you’re really not serious about doing what needs to be done.”

Another provision of Cornyn’s bill would prompt online platforms to share posts that contain threats of mass violence or domestic terrorism with local law enforcement.

“We know a lot of these folks have communicated their intention to commit violence online,” he said, referring to past mass shooters.

However, the senator seemed unsure of how the bill would definitely compel online sites, like social media platforms, to share threatening posts with law enforcement.

“Well, what we would do is provide incentives for them to do so, I would think that’s something they would want to do, just like they cooperate with law enforcement on child pornography and on terrorist activity,” Cornyn said.

Another part of the bill boosts the availability of mental health resources for individuals who may be thinking about harming themselves or others. The bill would expand Assisted Outpatient Treatment Programs, which are programs that commit people to institutionalized mental health treatments.

The bill, named the RESPONSE Act, is cosponsored by five other Republican members of the Senate.

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Alexandra Marquez is based in Washington, D.C. and is a student at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is an intern working for the McClatchy D.C. Bureau and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
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