Texas Sen. John Cornyn insists congressional Republicans must strengthen the same national background checks system many gun rights advocates in his own state want to abolish.
His plan may be Congress’s best shot at getting any gun safety measures through polarized Washington and respond to a national outcry after the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting. But his proposal could also cost him support in gun-loving Texas, where much of the gun rights community views the National Instant Criminal Background Check System as akin to gun control.
“It’s not the end all be all, there are other things we can and should do,” Cornyn said of the proposal. “I still come back to the fact that this is the one piece of legislation I’m confident can be passed.”
In Texas, the NICS system is a hot topic for other reasons.
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Smaller gun groups, like the National Association for Gun Rights, wield considerable influence and want the NICS system abolished, not fixed. NAGR’s president Dudley Brown has bashed Cornyn’s bill, and called the NICS system a “gun control super-database.”
State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a Republican from Bedford, wrote on Facebook that Cornyn is “selling out conservative principles” on guns. Stickland appeared to threaten a primary challenge to Cornyn in 2020, adding “I'm not going to sit quietly while he trashes our 2nd amendments rights.”
Cornyn’s not backing down.
“I think all of us understand the urgency of the moment and the need to act,” said Cornyn. “There will be a heavy price to pay if we do nothing and another mass shooting occurs where it could have been averted.”
Cornyn serves as his party’s vote counter, and believes he has the pulse of his conference on this issue.
Pressure is high on Washington to pass some gun safety measure, after last month’s shooting that left 17 youths and adults dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Cornyn’s proposal, introduced in November, adds funds to strengthen NICS. That system has come under criticism for allowing the shooter in the Sutherland Springs, Texas massacre to buy the gun used in the attack. In that case, felony records were missing from the shooter’s file, allowing him to pass the background check.
In Washington, Cornyn’s plan draws unusually broad support from the National Rifle Association, as well as 50 co-sponsors in the Senate from both parties.
The NRA, which supported the creation of the NICS system, says Cornyn’s proposal would help keep guns out of the hands of criminals. It says the bill also helps law-abiding citizens, by offering quick recourse if they believe the checks have produced a false-positive result in the screening.
“We need something that can actually pass with bipartisan support,” said Cornyn. “Let’s get that done and let’s not go home empty-handed.”
Cornyn has aggressively sought to keep the solution narrow, to court the 60 votes required for major legislation in the Senate.
When the House sought to combine the bill with a different gun rights priority, conceal-carry reciprocity, Cornyn spoke out against the move, saying it would hurt its chances in the Senate.
This week Cornyn again defended the bill from a similar fate. In a White House-hosted meeting, President Donald Trump advocated for gun control measures most of the GOP conference rejects.
Cornyn called that meeting a “brainstorming” exercise, and spoke with the president by phone the next day, according to an aide. He maintains his bill is the starting point for Congress’s deliberations.
“Anybody with a better idea can offer an amendment, and if it gets 60 votes it can be added to it,” said Cornyn.