Thompson announces gun-violence policies
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, announced Thursday a comprehensive set of policy principles for reducing gun violence. The 15-point plan was a product of public hearings and deliberations by the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, chaired by Thompson at the request of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
The dozen-member task force is composed entirely of Democratic representatives, a fact Thompson said Friday reflects the reality that “no one else has done a doggone thing.”
Leading the list of policy priorities, said Thompson in a telephone interview, is background checks. “Everybody who buys a gun should have a background check,” he said. “How do you find out if someone is a criminal, or mentally ill, without a background check?”
While the leadership of the National Rifle Association (NRA) is opposed to mandatory, universal background checks (a step it supported in 1999), Thompson pointed out that “NRA membership is made up of mothers and brothers and fathers and sisters … people who are concerned about gun violence and want to see it stop.”
And speaking at a Washington news conference Thursday in announcing the policy, Thompson, said, “If you’re against background checks, you’re for letting people who shouldn’t have guns have guns. There’s no other way to explain that.”
The task force met with and solicited input from victims of gun violence and gun safety advocates; gun owners, hunters, and outdoor sportsmen; federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies; educators and community workers; mental health experts and physicians; representatives of the motion picture, television, music, and video game industries; leaders in faith communities; and representatives of gun manufacturers and retailers, as well as cabinet secretaries and Vice President Joe Biden.
Thompson, who is a hunter and a combat veteran of the war in Vietnam, insists he supports the Second Amendment right to bears arms. But in a press release announcing the task force priorities, he also noted that the Supreme Court has held “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” Within the limits defined by the court, he stated, “the federal government has the responsibility to take appropriate steps to protect our citizens from gun violence.”
The task force priorities, therefore, include affirmation of “citizens’ rights to possess firearms for hunting, shooting sports, defense, and other lawful and legitimate purposes,” along with a call to “reinstate and strengthen a prospective federal ban on assault weapons.”
Having carried an assault weapon in Vietnam, Thompson told the Index-Tribune, “If I never see another one, it won’t be soon enough.” Acknowledging that numerous hunting rifles have the same, semi-automatic design as assault weapons, Thompson nevertheless insisted, “There’s no necessity for these things … when people use them to commit crimes, they’re a lot more destructive. The plastic shroud around the barrel allows you to hold them (without having to aim). Part of the culture of violence is at least provoked by these assault weapons.”
Thompson’s group also recommends reinstating a federal ban on high-capacity “assault magazines.”
Other priorities include:
• Strengthening the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database. Many federal and state agencies, the task force proposal warns, remain deficient in transferring important records to the database. Without the information, the background checks aren’t complete.
• Passage of legislation aimed at cracking down on illegal gun trafficking and straw-purchasing – the practice in which a prohibited buyer has someone with no criminal history pass a background check and purchase a gun with the purpose of giving it to the prohibited buyer.
• Restoration of funding for public safety and law enforcement initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence, including federal research into causes of gun violence.
• Support for initiatives that prevent problems before they start, including giving local communities assistance in applying evidence-based prevention and early intervention strategies.
• Closing the holes in the mental-health system and making sure that care is available for those who need it.
• Helping communities get unwanted and illegal guns out of the hands of those who don’t want them or shouldn’t have them.
• Supporting responsible gun ownership through safety training, research aimed at developing new gun safety technologies and the safe storage of firearms.
• Taking steps to enhance school safety by helping schools implement evidence-based strategies that support safe learning environments tailored to the needs of students and local communities while helping all schools to develop emergency response plans.
• Address the national culture’s glorification of violence as seen and heard though movie screens, television shows, music and video games. Congress should fund scientific research on the relationship between popular culture and gun violence, while ensuring that parents have access to the information they need to make informed decisions about what their families watch, listen to, and play.
Asked how this menu of priorities will be translated into action, Thompson said the task force will continue to hold hearings. “We need to see how the principles we establish relate to viable legislation.”
Asked how viable the chances are for any parts of the proposed priorities to end up as law, Thompson concluded, “It’s important that we prioritize (the policy principles) … I feel that background checks are the most important. But I’m not going to let the perfect get in the way of the good.”