Earlier this month, a lineup in the U.S. Senate press room showed Democrats and Republicans standing together showing rare agreement over a comprehensive criminal justice bill.
On the left, senators spoke about how the bill would reduce instances for non-violent offenders. On the right, Republicans talking about chances to rein in government overreach. “This is the way the system’s supposed to work,” said the Texas senator, John Cornyn, standing in the middle of the group. “If your attitude is ‘I get everything I want or nothing,’ you’ll always get nothing.”
That remark was a not-so-subtle jab at another Texas Senator, Ted Cruz, and his all-or-nothing approach when it comes to defunding Planned Parenthood. Well now, Senator Cornyn thinks he’s found bipartisan support for another plan: this one is aimed at the apparent spike in mass shootings.
He’s traveling the state, pushing a measure that is aimed at doing something about the problem with gun violence that folks have been talking about quite a bit as of late. Senator Cornyn says his bill, the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act of 2015, tries to find a point of consensus on such a divisive issue.
On the bill’s purpose:
“I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but – recognizing that the common element in the vast majority of these incidents is the mental health of the shooter – my legislation is trying to find a point of consensus where we can get people the help they need so they can keep from becoming a danger both to themselves and others….
“If people are actually interested in getting something done and finding a solution I think this is a good start. Unfortunately, some people just want to demagogue the issue and really apparently want to just continue to drive people apart on the important questions.”
What would the bill do? How would it fix the existing system without expanding it?
“The current background check system that I support doesn’t upload all of the relevant information. For example, the states would be incentivized under my bill to upload adjudications of mentally ill individuals like the shooter at Virginia Tech. Strangely and tragically he had been adjudicated mentally ill by Virginia, but that information had not been put on the FBI’s background check system.
“We’d also create a civil mechanism, an outpatient procedure where family members could seek help for their children, their spouse, people who are obviously exhibiting some signs of mental illness and get them to comply with their medication and see the doctor in a way that will hopefully keep them from getting sicker.”
Where do we draw the line at what information is uploaded into the background check system? Is is a slippery slope?
“We’re very careful to make sure that only after due process, after notice and opportunity to be heard and evidence is presented to a judge, can an individual be deprived of their Second Amendment rights.
“This is, after all a constitutional right and something we don’t want to tamper with.”
Some people might set this as an effort to preempt tougher actions on guns by some of your colleagues on the left. Do you sense that there’s momentum building on the left for tougher gun control legislation?
“This bill will actually try to solve the problem and not just demagogue it. We know that legislation has been introduced in the Congress before that cannot pass…. The hope is to find that common ground and that’s why – as you point out – it been endorsed by everybody from the NRA to leading mental health organizations that actually will help us make progress and provide help to families, give them other choices… and thus avert some of these terrible tragedies.”
In some of the concealed carry forums on college campuses there have been concerns that we should be seeing this as a mental health issue, not as a gun issue.
However, other countries in the industrialized world do not have the amount of mass killings that the United States has. The variable there seems to be the availability of guns. What’s your response?
“There are a lot of legitimate gun owners, myself included, that are never gonna be a threat to public safety. Really, the only people that are criminals – and obviously we need to go after criminals using our traditional law enforcement methods and then the people who become mentally ill. These other countries you mentioned… none of them have in their Bill of Rights a right to keep and bear arms.
“Many of them have very restricted access even for law-abiding citizens, but no matter how you restrict access you’re still gonna have criminals and other people gain access because of the black market and the like.
“While I can see that my legislation doesn’t solve all of the problems. I think it solves a substantial part of the problem and represents an opportunity for consensus.”
Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.