In these polarizing times, tragedies like the church massacre in Sutherland Springs generate a lot of heated debate and empty rhetoric but seldom translate into any meaningful policy changes on our nation’s gun policies.
Sadly, we have come to expect political gridlock as the national response to mass shootings.
The bill — a bipartisan effort of Cornyn and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. — is being carried by several of the upper chamber’s heavyweights on both sides of the aisle. It would seek better enforcement of existing law by requiring states to produce plans for more quickly uploading conviction records to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
It would require the same of federal agencies and the military.
If passed, the measure also would reward states that comply by making it easier for them to get federal grants. Federal agencies that fail to report to the system would suffer penalties. Political appointees would be barred from receiving bonus pay.
To be sure, the bill is not a watershed.
Essentially, it aims to fix gaping holes in the national background check registry and provide some teeth to existing law, even though they aren’t particularly sharp ones.
It would add no new gun ownership restrictions and would provide incremental change only.
But even such small fixes would have prevented Devin Kelley from killing 26 people in Sutherland Springs last month. His record of domestic violence and bad-conduct discharge from the Air Force should have barred him from purchasing guns.
And that is reason enough to support the measure.
The Legislature has worked to further reduce gun restrictions during its last several sessions, lowering the cost of obtaining permits and allowing concealed handgun holders to carry their weapons on public university campuses.
It’s unlikely that the tragedy in Sutherland Springs will move legislators in Austin to rethink those policies or to strengthen gun requirements. But it should motivate them to ensure that Texas is uploading every bit of relevant criminal information into the FBI’s background check registry. And if that means cracking down on counties that fail to report this information, then the L egislature should make that a priority next session.
Second Amendment advocates often point to poor enforcement of existing laws for enabling mass shooters. Texas shouldn’t provide further reason for that argument to prevail.
The U.S. Senate should pass this law, and Texas should vigorously comply.