The second-ranking House Republican said Tuesday that he supports improving the federal government’s background check system for gun buyers, but stopped short of endorsing universal checks on all weapons purchases.
The comments by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) came as two GOP lawmakers from suburban districts announced plans to co-sponsor legislation to make gun trafficking a federal crime for the first time. The moves signal potential openings for bipartisan compromise on gun-control, a debate so far dominated by Democrats and little said or done by Republicans.
Cantor, giving the most specific comments on gun-control by a GOP congressional leader since President Obama outlined his proposals in late January, told CNN in an interview that lawmakers could consider adopting a plan implemented by Virginia following the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech. Since the shooting, the state has linked mental health information to law enforcement databases used to conduct background checks for gun purchases.
“I think that we can take a lot of lessons from what Virginia did and put it in place at the federal level,” Cantor told CNN. “Because there’s a lot of states that aren’t doing what Virginia is doing to try to beef up the database for the background checks to make sure that we actually can do something that does have a chance at reducing the likelihood and hopefully eliminating that from happening again.”
But when asked, Cantor stopped short of saying he supported universal background checks, saying only that “I am for making sure that we increase the quality of information in the database that is in existence already.”
Cantor aides declined multiple requests Tuesday to clarify the leader’s comments.
Last month, Obama took four separate executive actions designed to improve the information in the existing background check system. The administration has begun removing legal and regulatory barriers for states to share information about the mentally ill with the federal background checks database, and is holding federal agencies accountable for sharing relevant information with the database. The administration also moved to increase incentives for states to share criminal history and mental health information with the federal database. To that end, Obama is asking Congress to provide $50 million in fiscal 2014 to fund the effort.
Cantor’s comments “clearly opened the door for the House to move on meaningful legislation” to address gun violence, said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).
Cummings was joined Tuesday at a news conference by Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) and Scott Rigell (R-Va.) to unveil the first bipartisan gun-control bill introduced in the House since the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The bill would make gun trafficking a federal crime and impose new penalties against gun “straw purchasers” who knowingly buy firearms for convicted criminals who are barred from buying their own weapons. It mirrors a bipartisan Senate bill introduced last week and was part of Obama’s recent proposals.
Rigell, who represents the Hampton Roads region, and Meehan, a former federal prosecutor, said they have discussed the bill with Republican colleagues.
“There are some questions, but generally they’re very supportive,” Riggell said of other potential GOP cosponsors.
Saying that he knows well the pain suffered by families of gun violence victims, Cummings recalled the shooting death last year of his 20-year-old nephew: “It is a painful thing to see your blood splattered on the walls of an apartment. To see tissue from your loved one splattered on walls,” he said.
Also Tuesday, the White House announced that on Feb. 15, Obama will honor the six Sandy Hook Elementary School teachers and administrators who were killed while trying to protect their students during the Newtown massacre. They will posthumously receive the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal, one of the highest honors bestowed by the president, a White House official said.
Source : washingtonpost[dot]com