Thompson, Perlmutter Introduce Legislation to Keep Communities Safe, Help Prevent Future Gun Violence Tragedies

Oct 26, 2017
Press Release

Washington, DC – Today, Congressmen Mike Thompson (CA-05), Chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, and Ed Perlmutter (CO-07), Vice-Chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, introduced H.R. 4142, the Safer Communities Act of 2017, legislation aimed at reducing and preventing gun violence by keeping guns away from people who should not have them. The legislation closes the gaps in current federal gun policy by clarifying and expanding existing federal prohibitors related to mental health, substance abuse, history of violence, and other risk factors; provides states with the tools needed to strengthen and enforce gun violence prevention laws; provides resources for mental health crisis intervention services; and improves records reporting into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

“After nearly every gun violence tragedy, we’ve heard many say that guns are not the problem, mental health is. The Safer Communities Act we’ve introduced today would address that problem and keep guns out of the hands of the dangerously mentally ill,” said Rep. Thompson. “While those suffering from mental illness are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crimes, we recognize that improving our mental health system, and keeping firearms from those with other risk factors such as a history of substance abuse disorders and violence, can help prevent gun violence. And by improving intervention services, boosting evidence-based research, and giving law enforcement more tools to get guns out of the hands of those who pose a danger to themselves or others, we can make our country safer and get people the help they need, while also respecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners.”

“This is a common sense proposal to reduce the likelihood of individuals suffering from mental illness from accessing firearms. It’s important to keep guns away from individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others and instead provide them with the mental health services they need,” said Rep. Perlmutter. “We’ve seen far too many tragedies in our communities and we must take steps to prevent future tragedies by making gun violence less easy, less frequent and less deadly.”

The Safer Communities Act of 2017 clarifies and expands existing federal prohibitors to help keep guns away from those who are determined to pose a danger to themselves or others. Specifically, the legislation prohibits the purchase or possession of a firearm by individuals subject to involuntary outpatient commitment if a court finds they pose a significant and dangerous threat to themselves or others. Current federal law has been interpreted to apply only to inpatient commitments.

Recognizing that states play an important role in preventing gun violence and ensuring safe communities, the legislation provides states with the tools needed to strengthen and enforce gun violence prevention laws. Specifically, it further supports federal and state partnerships by providing grants to states to strengthen gun violence prevention laws that prohibit individuals with certain risk factors such as a history of dangerous mental illness, substance abuse, and violence from possessing firearms. For example, states could:

  •          Create laws that enable law enforcement to petition for a warrant to temporarily remove firearms when there is probable cause to believe that an individual poses an imminent risk of harm to self or others. The process by which a warrant is obtained and a gun is removed must be consistent with due process; and
  •          Create laws that temporarily prohibit the purchase and possession of a gun after an involuntary hospitalization on an emergency basis due to serious mental illness;

The legislation also requires the FBI to expand its current alert system so state and local law enforcement can pursue cases where prohibited persons try to purchase guns – particularly those prohibited due to serious mental illness.

Thompson and Perlmutter’s bill also provides resources for mental health crisis intervention services, boosts mental health research, enhances information sharing and research on gun violence, and improves the submission of mental health records into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the database used to determine whether or not a prospective buyer is eligible to buy a firearm.

The bill changes the outdated and stigmatizing “mental defective” terminology currently used in federal firearms statute and replaces it with “ineligible due to disqualifying mental status.”

Finally, Safer Communities Act of 2017 establishes a minimum restoration standard, ensuring a fair restoration process of firearm ownership rights that balances public safety with individuals’ rights. One year after an individual’s involuntary commitment ends, they may petition the court to have their rights restored. The application must be accompanied by a clinical opinion of a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed mental health professional. After considering a variety of factors, the judge would determine if restoring gun ownership rights is compatible with the public interest.