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Judiciary Chairman Puts Gun Onus on Executive Branch

Goodlatte. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The member of Congress leading oversight over the Justice and Homeland Security departments, as well as terrorism and crime, said Thursday it was up to the Executive Branch, not Congress, to make sure guns didn't get into the wrong hands.  

"The biggest thing that we can do in regards to gun violence is enforce the laws that we currently have on the books," House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., said during a taping of C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" that is set to air Sunday. "We have hundreds of them at the federal level, thousands of them at the state and local level, and the record over the last six years is one of steadily declining enforcement." Democrats have consistently criticized Republicans for not moving legislation to tighten gun laws, particularly after this week's San Bernardino shootings. Several gun-control amendments were voted down in Senate consideration Thursday of the budget reconciliation measure.  

But Goodlatte said the current laws on the books aren't being enforced, pointing to data that show that only 62 out of approximately 72,000 people who lied on instant background check forms in 2010 were prosecuted.  

"That's indefensible," he said.  

Goodlatte said there were civil liberty problems with other legislative proposals, including banning people on the federal no-fly list from buying guns. He pointed to members of Congress who were mistakenly put on the list, such as the late Sen. Edward M Kennedy, D-Mass.  

Instead, Goodlatte pointed to two other legislative possibilities to address gun violence.  

One bill, sponsored by Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., would overhaul the country's mental health policies to focus on people most in need of psychiatric treatment. The Energy and Commerce Committee has jurisdiction of that legislation.  

Goodlatte said he is also working on legislation to make sure employers share pertinent information about employees with a history of violence. He cited a shooting in his district in August when reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward of the CBS affiliate WDBJ7 in Roanoke, Va., were shot and killed during a live broadcast by a former WDBJ employee.  

"I want to make sure that when that television station hired that individual, they got more information than name, rank and serial number," he said. He added that if the most recent San Bernardino shootings reveal "a workplace violence issue," then his bill could be a response to that episode.  

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Democrats aren't likely to be swayed that such a response should be the only one and will likely continue to push for background checks and other actions.  

"We've had far too many moments of silence on the floor of the House, and while it is right to respectfully acknowledge the losses, we can no longer remain silent," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday. "What gives us the right to hold moments of silence when we do nothing to act upon the cause of the grief?"

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