I am calling on President Barack Obama to use his executive powers to strengthen the background check system used for gun purchases in the United States.
I wrote to President Obama on December 16 following a New York Times report that said a number of recommendations by the Department of Justice to strengthen the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) have not been acted upon by the White House, despite President Obama calling for a better background check system personally in an op-ed after last year’s mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona.
I also noted that I have legislation in Congress now called the Fix Gun Checks Act (H.R. 1781), to improve the country’s background check system, as well as a bill to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines (H.R. 308), which have been used in almost every single mass shooting in recent history.
According to the New York Times report, the Justice Department recommended the same basic reforms of the Fix Gun Checks Act – to encourage states to provide better information to the background check database and to require a check for all sales including private gun show sales.
President Obama recommended the same two reforms in his op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star after last year’s shooting in Tucson.
I stress that I look forward to working with President Obama on these issues and meeting with him soon.
The full text of the letter is below:
December 16, 2012
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
I am writing in reference to an article that appeared in the New York Times today, December 16, 2012 entitled "Justice Dept. Shelved Ideas to Improve Gun Background Checks." I write to express my disappointment that, as the Times reports, after a lengthy study was performed, and the Department of Justice provided a number of recommendations, the White House did not move forward with these suggestions. I urge you to delay these suggestions no longer and take immediate action to improve the background check system for gun purchases in the United States.
Watching your remarks on Friday in response to the shooting in Connecticut , I cried with you, and I listened as you said that to events like these you react not as a president, but as a parent. I understand, better than most, that reaction, but I also need you to respond now as a president. I, and this country, need you to lead us on this issue. After my colleague Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others were shot in the horrific massacre in Tucson last year, you wrote in the Arizona Daily Star that, "Every single day, America is robbed of more futures. It has awful consequences for our society. And as a society, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to put a stop to it." The way forward will not be easy, but work must begin to save other parents from having to react to the death of a child at the hands of a gunman.
A robust background check system is the first line of defense to keep guns out of dangerous hands. Our current system, however, is woefully inadequate. Federal agencies as well as many at the state level, are not required to, or they fail to, share information with the database. The system is only as good as the information it contains. I ask you to immediately improve the flow of information into the system by requiring all federal agencies to share relevant information. This is an issue that I take most seriously, and an issue on which there has been bipartisan success in the past. In 2008, President George W. Bush signed into law my bill, P.L. 110-180, the NICS Improvement Amendments Act. This bill sought to strengthen the background check system. Given the bipartisan support the bill received, it can serve as a blueprint for how to move forward on this issue.
Background checks are also less effective when there are ways to legally get around them. The gun show loophole has been a glaring problem for years. This glitch in our system allows people to buy weapons and ammunition not only without a background check, but often with no records or proof of identity. It is imperative that we end this practice. As you know, I have introduced a bill in the House, H.R. 1781, the Fix Gun Checks Act, which would close the gun show loophole and require a background check for private gun sales. Senator Schumer is the sponsor of a similar bill in the Senate, S. 436. I am eager to discuss with you how we can move in the direction of abolishing this loophole either legislatively or through administrative action.
We will never be able to eliminate all instances of gun violence. But there are things we can do to reduce gun crimes in this country, and we must take a comprehensive approach. I would also direct your attention to another bill that I have introduced in the House, H.R. 308, The Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act. Senator Lautenberg has introduced an identical bill, S. 32 in the Senate. This bill would reinstate the ban on high capacity ammunition magazines that were outlawed in our country between 1994 and 2004.
The ideas above are a good start, but there is much to do. I look forward to working with you on these issues and others as we move forward, and to that end I would request a meeting with you at your earliest convenience.
Member of Congress
Carolyn McCarthy is the representative of New York’s Fourth Congressional District. She was first elected in 1996.