NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007

Floor Speech

Date: June 13, 2007
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Guns

NICS IMPROVEMENT AMENDMENTS ACT OF 2007 -- (House of Representatives - June 13, 2007)


(Mr. DINGELL asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)

Mr. DINGELL. I want to thank, Mr. Speaker, my dear friend, the chairman of the committee, for yielding this time to me, and express my great affection and respect for Mr. Conyers.

I also want to thank my dear friend, Mr. Smith, for the kind words that he made about me, and I want to express my affection and respect for him.

I want to say that this is a good piece of legislation. It has taken a while, but I'm happy to have worked with many of our colleagues, including the distinguished gentlewoman from New York, who has been a fine leader on this matter.

Improving the National Instant Check System is a matter of important national business, and I would urge my colleagues to take a look at the rather curious alliance which brings this matter forward. Not only is the NRA, but the gun control folks are in support of it. Members on both sides of the aisle, both here and in the Senate, are strongly supporting it.

The bill will require the National Instant Check System to work. It will provide incentives to the States and penalties for those who do not cooperate in terms of making the system work.

This system has the capability of seeing to it that criminals are denied firearms while, at the same time, assuring that we protect the rights of law abiding citizens.

The bill makes the system better for everyone, and assures that there will be better law enforcement and better protection of the rights of all citizens, both under the second amendment and personal security.

The bill also addresses the problems of mishandling of this matter by the Veterans Administration, by making corrections which will make it possible for veterans who have not a disability of mental character or otherwise, to own firearms within the ordinary structure of the law.

It is a good piece of legislation. I want to commend my distinguished friend, Congresswoman McCarthy from New York for her leadership and the outstanding work which she has done.

I will tell my colleagues that this is an important matter. I'm delighted to see that we're able to come together, Democrats and Republicans, friends of firearms and hunters and sportsmen, and also those who are concerned about public safety, and who desire to see to it that we have proper protection of persons against criminal misuse of firearms.

We have given this body a good bill. I urge my colleagues to support it.

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Mr. Speaker, we've heard many concerns from gun owners, especially my fellow veterans, who are concerned that a person who seeks treatment for a mental problem might be reported to NICS as a ``mental defective.'' I want to lay those concerns to rest right now.

First of all, federal law, the Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits gun ownership by people who are ``adjudicated'' as mentally defective. ``Adjudication'' implies a decision by a court or similar body--not just a doctor's notes on a patient's charts.

Even the regulations of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives make that clear. They define an ``adjudication'' as a decision by a ``court, board, commission or other lawful authority.'' They have never treated doctors as a ``lawful authority'' for this purpose; clearly what they had in mind were legally empowered bodies such as judges, or the county mental health boards that are in place in some states to make decisions at hearings with respect to mental illness.

Second, we in no way intend that this bill should override federal or state medical privacy laws or the basic role of a doctor. The confidentiality between a doctor and patient is sacred and we do not intend to breach it here. We make that clear in section 102 of this bill, where we require the Attorney General to work with the medical and mental health community to develop privacy regulations.

Finally, this is a particular concern for the Veterans' Administration, which examines thousands of veterans every year. Even if we wanted them to, it would be an unreasonable demand on that hard-working agency to expect them to comb every patient's file for any possible finding that the person might be dangerous. I want to be clear that that is not our intent.

It is important that we understand these points because no person should ever be deterred from seeking mental health treatment out of a concern that he might lose his Second Amendment rights due to some record of voluntary treatment being provided for the instant check system.

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