He said Republicans are open to new gun laws, “but we do not want to write new laws that are not going to be enforced, number one, and we don’t want to write new laws that aren’t going to work, number two.”
Specific Proposals Identified
Goodlatte expressed openness to two legislative proposals in particular: a strengthening of the current background check system for gun purchases and a crackdown on gun traffickers, or “straw purchasers,” who illegally buy firearms for those who may not do so.
Under the current background check system, known as the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, state and federal agencies provide records of prohibited gun buyers to a national database that tells gun dealers whether transactions may proceed or not. The Government Accountability Office has found gaping holes in the system, including a lack of information-sharing by states, particularly when it comes to providing the records of mentally ill individuals who are barred from buying firearms.
“That law, NICS, is up for reauthorization at the end of this year anyway,” Goodlatte said. “We believe that the law can be improved, and there’s no question we will be working on ways to prevent criminals and people with serious mental illness from obtaining firearms, while at the same time protecting the right of law-abiding citizens to have firearms.”
States have raised privacy concerns as one reason that they have not shared more mental-health records with the database, and Goodlatte acknowledged that Congress is limited in what it can do to encourage information-sharing by the states. But he said the Judiciary Committee would raise the issue prominently.
“We’re certainly going to shine a spotlight on the fact that states need to do this,” he said. “At some point in time, the responsibility falls to the states to say, ‘Hey, we can save the lives of a lot of our citizens.’”
While Goodlatte and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have now both expressed support for improving the background check system as it currently exists, neither has shown support for a proposal Obama and congressional Democrats have called for: expanding the system to apply to nearly all gun sales, including those between private individuals.
Goodlatte expressed a willingness to take up another Obama proposal that has gained bipartisan support in recent weeks: a crackdown on straw purchasers. Democrats and Republicans in both legislative chambers have unveiled proposals to create tough penalties of up to 20 years for such purchasers.
“We’re looking very closely at those various proposals,” Goodlatte said. “We’re definitely interested.”
In the letters they sent to the administration earlier Friday, Goodlatte and the 22 other Republican members of the Judiciary Committee called on the Justice Department to provide data from 2001 to 2012 on the number of individuals who failed federal background checks on gun purchases and were prosecuted as a result.
The Republicans asked the department, “where possible,” to break out that information among the 93 federal prosecutors’ offices in the nation to show geographical patterns. The lawmakers also asked the department to provide statistics on a range of other gun-related prosecutions over the past decade — and to return it to the Judiciary Committee by March 8.