In the aftermath of the tragedy at VA Tech, today the House passed by voice vote a bill that will strengthen state reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). By design the NICS is supposed to stop people who are legally possess guns like criminals and the mentally ill from buying them, but the shootings at VA Tech revealed a glowing weakness in the way that states report into the system.

Under existing law the VA Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, should have never been able to legally purchase the weapons used in the attacks. However, the state of Virginia didn’t share Cho’s records with the federal background check system. This bill requires states to automate and share records with the federal database. It provides states with $750 million over the next three years to make this change. States who fail to make this change face penalties that could include the loss of federal anti-crime funds.

The bill’s lead sponsor was longtime gun control advocate, and enemy of the NRA, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY). “Millions of criminal records are not accessible by NICS and millions others are missing critical data. Each year, tens of thousands of barred individuals slip through the cracks of the system and gain access to firearms. Simply, put, the NICS system must be updated on both the state and federal level.”

The bill was negotiated by McCarthy and pro-gun Democrat Rep. John Dingell (D-MI). “Nothing is ever going to prevent evil people from committing evil acts.  But this bill will go a long way towards making sure that those who have been judged to be a danger to society or have committed felonies cannot buy a firearm. The tragedy of Virginia Tech made it clear that the current NICS system needs to have better information, better technology, and clearer standards.  This legislation accomplishes that,” Dingell said.

This bill is also supported by the NRA. Wayne LaPierre, the organization’s executive vice president, said, “We’ve always been vigilant about protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens to purchase guns, and equally vigilant about keeping the guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally defective and people who shouldn’t have them.” He made it clear on the organization’s official website that he doesn’t view this bill as a gun control law. He views this bill as a strengthening of an existing law, and said that if the bill became a gun control law, the NRA would withdraw their support. Apparently, some of the confusion about the bill among the NRA membership came from the fact that it was sponsored by staunch gun control advocate McCarthy.

This is the first bit of gun legislation to be passed by the House in over a decade. As Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “As Virginia Tech showed, when the system fails, the consequences can be tragic. For the first time in over a decade, we have our best opportunity to prevent the senseless loss of life at our schools and on our streets by making sure that those who are judged mentally ill do not get guns.  The fact that the NRA and I agree shows that this legislation is needed, not controversial and should pass quickly.”  

When the Democrats and the NRA actually agree on a bill, it is as good as passed. As far as the impact of the bill is concerned, this will only stop people who have a legal history of mental illness from buying guns. Even if a person is legally mentally ill, there are still lots of illegal ways for them to get weapons. This bill won’t solve the problem, but it will make it more difficult for those who shouldn’t have guns to get them.

Carolyn McCarthy

  NRA website

Related AP story

Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at

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