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Press Democrat: Rep. Mike Thompson says House resolution weakens gun-buying curbs on the mentally ill

Feb 3, 2017
News Articles

A resolution overwhelmingly approved by House Republicans will weaken federal gun control laws aimed at preventing mentally ill people from purchasing firearms, Rep. Mike Thompson said Friday.

The House action would permanently revoke an Obama administration rule requiring the Social Security Administration to report the names of people with severe mental illness to the federal gun-buying background checks system.

Thompson, D-St. Helena and chairman of the House Democrats’ Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, said the resolution “would put Americans at risk” and “diminish the value” of the system that prohibits convicted felons and others from acquiring weapons.

The Obama regulation, implemented in December, applies to about 75,000 Social Security beneficiaries who have been deemed unable to work and to manage their own affairs, whom Thompson described as people “with the most serious impairments.”

Federal law since 1968 has prohibited people with severe mental illness from possessing firearms, he said. The 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, committed by a man with a history of mental illness, led to Obama’s strengthening the background checks system.

The House vote on Thursday was 235-180, with six Democrats backing an end to the Obama rule and two Republicans opposed. Senate approval is needed before the measure goes to President Donald Trump, who reportedly supports it.

Thompson said the congressional action is significant because it would prevent the Social Security Administration from establishing any similar rule in the future.

“No one wants another Virginia Tech. No one wants another Newton,” he said, referring to the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut by a young man with behavioral problems.

The National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union supported an end to the regulation, which both groups considered a government overreach.

“We oppose this rule because it advances and reinforces the harmful stereotype that people with mental disabilities, a vast and diverse group of citizens, are violent,” the ACLU said in a letter to House members.

Thompson, a gun owner who espouses strong support for the Second Amendment, said this week’s vote was part of “an all-out effort to repeal” Obama’s rule making.

On gun regulation, he noted that Republicans have introduced a bill — endorsed by Donald Trump Jr., an avid hunter — making gun silencers easier to buy, and another measure that would require all states to recognize gun-carry licenses issued by any other state.

The latter would mean that a California resident who could not meet the standards for a license here could get one in a more lenient state like Utah or Alaska, Thompson said.

Wider use of silencers would make it more difficult for game wardens to track down poachers and for police to quickly zero in on an urban shooter, he said.

Fourteen House Republicans formed the Congressional Second Amendment Caucus in December intent on sponsoring pro-gun legislation.

“I look forward to working with the new president and this determined group of conservatives to promote a pro-gun agenda,” the group’s leader, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky, told the Washington Free Beacon.