By Congressman Andy Barr
As our children head back to school, recent mass shootings in Dayton, El Paso and Odessa are weighing heavily on the hearts and minds of our parents, our teachers and, in many cases, our children. According to the Kentucky Center for School Safety, there were more than 1,400 threats against our schools last year alone.
I’ve spent a significant amount of time during this recent district work period listening to my constituents—law enforcement, Moms Demand Action, teachers, students, school administrators, gun owners and sportsmen’s groups—to make sure I fully understand my constituents’ diverse and varied perspectives about this difficult issue.
Regrettably, in the wake of these tragedies, we’ve witnessed yet again the politicization of gun violence and the false accusation that Republicans in Congress refuse to address the issue. To be sure, I continue to join my Republican colleagues in opposing partisan legislation that would infringe on law-abiding Americans’ Second Amendment rights without preventing a single mass shooting. But the narrative that congressional Republicans have refused to take action is simply not true.
Time and again, in fact, we have acted to address this recurring threat to public safety. While some in Congress want to restrict gun rights for everyone, including law-abiding citizens, Republicans are trying to get to the core of the problem—keeping firearms out of the hands of those who, based on criminal background, threatening behavior or mental illness, should not have access to them in the first place.
For example, while many gun control advocates clamor for more background checks, few seem to appreciate that more checks will not keep guns out of the wrong hands unless the database used for those checks actually contains accurate, complete and timely information. That’s why the Republican majority last Congress passed the Fix NICS Act to improve the National Instant Background Check System. I voted for that legislation, which imposes new requirements on federal and state authorities to report the criminal and mental health history of individuals to the NICS system in an accurate and timely manner.
The Republican Congress also passed, with my support, the STOP School Violence Act. That legislation authorizes grants for school threat assessment teams to help intake and triage threats, administer training for students, teachers and law enforcement to identify signs of violence for early intervention and implement anonymous reporting systems for students in coordination with local law enforcement.
In the aftermath of the Las Vegas tragedy, I cosigned a letter to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), requesting that ATF work expeditiously to reassess “bump-stocks” and similar devices to ensure full compliance with federal law. Soon after that letter was sent, the Trump Administration took administrative action to ban bump-stocks.
Those actions represent real progress. But because there’s more work to be done, I’ve cosponsored three pieces of legislation in the current Congress aimed at preventing violence.
First, the Mass Violence Prevention Act would establish an intelligence fusion center at the FBI to enhance coordination among local, state, and federal law enforcement. In many cases, a troubled individual is reported to multiple different agencies without those agencies connecting the dots. This bill would force better interagency communication, strengthen the penalty for burglary or robbery of a Federal Firearms Licensee and authorize the Department of Justice to hire additional Assistant United States Attorneys to prosecute gun violence cases. These reforms could have prevented the attacks at Charleston, Parkland, and Columbine.
Second, the Threat Assessment, Prevention, and Safety Act would create a national behavioral threat assessment task force, modeled after the system used by the United States Secret Service, that would provide States the training, resources and support needed to stand up community-based, multidisciplinary behavioral threat assessment and managements units.
Third, the School Violence Prevention and Mitigation Act would authorize $2 billion over the next ten years for two grant programs, one to assess the physical vulnerabilities of a school building and the other to provide the hard security infrastructure upgrades necessary to mitigate the vulnerabilities identified by those risk assessments.
I believe it should be harder for people who shouldn’t have guns to acquire and use guns. Unfortunately, others in Congress believe it should be harder for everyone—including law-abiding citizens—to acquire and use guns. I am sympathetic to those who say Congress should “do something.” But we cannot ignore the plain language of the Second Amendment. Rather than just “do something,” Congress needs to work in a bipartisan way to actually solve this problem and make a meaningful difference in the fight against gun violence.