Wednesday night, the U.S. Congress approved by "unanimous consent" a bill that CBS News called "the first major new gun control bill in more than a decade," and the Washington Post called "the most significant gun-control legislation since the early 1990s."
Passage of H.R. 2640, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Improvement Amendments Act of 2007 [pdf], is a major victory for the families and survivors of the Virginia Tech shooting, and for all who support common-sense gun laws. This bill gives the states financial incentives to supply more records of more prohibited purchasers to NICS - the Brady background check system for gun buyers.
The Virginia Tech shooter - determined by a judge to be a danger to himself due to mental illness - was allowed to walk out of two gun stores armed with semi-automatic pistols and high-capacity ammunition magazines even though he should have been flagged as a "prohibited purchaser." If the Commonwealth of Virginia had sent his records to NICS, he would have been denied guns at the point of purchase - and the 32 people he murdered might still be alive today.
Brady background checks have stopped an estimated 1.4 million people from legally buying guns since 1994, but those background checks are still only as good as the records in the system. These records include the dangerously mentally ill, felons and domestic abusers, among others. At present, only an estimated 10-20% of the records of the dangerously mentally ill are in the Brady background check system. Amazingly enough, a quarter of felony records have yet to be added to the system. This is unacceptable.
Survivors and surviving family members of the Virginia Tech massacre fought to make the Brady background check better, and their efforts have been vindicated by this bill's passage.
Convicted felons should not be allowed to buy guns. Neither should the dangerously mentally ill or domestic abusers. Dangerous people should not have easy access to dangerous weapons.
This bill - now awaiting the President's signature - should lead to a significant increase in submitted records over current levels and help prevent future tragedies like the one at Virginia Tech. This is common-sense gun control legislation that the vast majority of Americans can support. (See also yesterday's statement by "Mayors Against Illegal Guns.")
I am gratified that Congress passed this legislation, and I encourage the President to sign it at his first opportunity.