Washington (CNN) – New legislation introduced Wednesday aims to close one loophole in the process of purchasing a gun.
The bill from Sen. Lindsey Graham and three other bipartisan lawmakers expands the scope of mental health information submitted to the background check system used by gun sellers. It has the backing of the National Rifle Association, and background check-related legislation has been considered the most likely of the various gun violence proposals to survive the legislative process.
It does not address a second loophole in the background check requirements – the gun show loophole – which critics say provides an avenue for people who know they cannot pass a background check to buy firearms.
Graham stood with co-sponsors Jeff Flake, R-Arizona and Democrats Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas at a news conference Wednesday and said the bill addresses a “major flaw in the system.”
“We have legislation that will make sure that in the future, people who find themselves in this legal category of having gone to a federal court and plead not guilty by reason of insanity, having been … judged by (a) federal court to be dangerous to themselves and others, would no longer be able legally to pass a background check,” he said. “There are a lot of emotions about the gun violence issue. But I am hopeful this (is) one area where we can find tremendous bipartisan support to fix what I think is a gaping gap in our law.”
This bill would expand the scope of the current federal database – the National Instant Criminal Background Check System – to flag individuals who have used an insanity defense, were ruled by a court to be dangerous, or were committed by a court to mental health treatment.
It includes, for example, individuals found not guilty because of mental illness in a criminal case, those “found guilty but mentally ill,” and people found “incompetent to stand trial,” according to a summary of the legislation provided to reporters by Graham’s office.
The National Rifle Association announced its support for the legislation saying it would “improve” the current background check system.
“This bill will create accurate definitions of those who pose serious threats and should be barred from the ability to buy or possess a firearm, while protecting the rights of law abiding citizens and veterans,” said Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.
CNN contacted the prominent gun control advocacy group the Brady Campaign to Reduce Gun Violence for comment on the legislation but did not receive a response.
The group’s president, Dan Gross, said on CNN’s Guns Under Fire: An AC360º Town Hall Special in January that his group was concerned about people with mental health issues slipping through the background check system, but had other concerns, too.
“The Brady Law passed in 1993 has prevented nearly 2 million convicted felons, domestic abusers, dangerously mentally ill from buying a gun,” he said. “Did people fall through the cracks in those background checks? Very possibly yes, and there are things we should do about it.
“But the reality is 40% of gun sales in our country don't requite a background check,” he said, referring to the gun show loophole. “Every day in our country, there are guns being purchased by dangerous people, and we can stop that just by extending background checks.”
The gun violence reduction group founded by former U.S Rep. Gaby Giffords and her husband, Americans for Responsible Solutions, echoed Gross’ sentiment.
"We are glad that Senators Graham, Flake, Pryor and Begich agree that America has a problem with gun violence. And we agree with their ideas for strengthening the NICS system” said Pia Carusone, executive director of the new group. “But they cannot ignore the fact that 40% of the guns purchased in this country are bought outside of the system all together –meaning dangerous people have easy access to guns.”
Increasing the scope of background checks, Carusone noted, has broad support - 92% of respondents to a January CNN/TIME/ORC poll were in favor. To not pass legislation dealing with it “would be simply bowing to pressure from the gun lobby.”
Begich, one of the Democratic co-sponsors of the legislation, said at Wednesday’s press conference would both prevent individuals with mental health issues from purchasing guns, but also develops consistency in the legal process.
“In addition, the bill will strengthen the rights for people with mental health illnesses,” he said. “It provides a specific definition of mentally incompetent … that only includes individuals involuntarily committed to treatment.”
Graham is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which on Thursday will consider several pieces of gun-related legislation introduced by Democrats, including an assault weapons ban, a gun-trafficking bill and a school-safety measure.
Graham pressed Attorney General Eric Holder at a hearing Wednesday about the number of prosecutions of people who failed a background check.
Holder said cases were “individually examined” by prosecutors for suitability. In cases where the individual failed because he was a fugitive from justice, Holder said, “that is something that should perhaps be a priority prosecution, but that person may not be there to prosecute.”
When proposing the background check bill, Graham cited the case of Alice Boland, who is accused of attempting to kill a school employee. She previously pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity for threatening to kill President George W. Bush.
- CNN Senior Producer Todd Sperry contributed to this report.