By Dallas Morning News
Every mass shooting creates a now-familiar moment during which the nation’s attention is focused on the destructive horror of gun violence. Time after time — one tragedy after another — the moment has passed, abandoned to legislative paralysis on the intractably contentious issue of firearms regulation.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn’s proposal to improve the reliability of the national database used to flag people who are ineligible for gun purchases is by no means a cure-all. But it could be a beginning if Congress would pass it now instead of waiting around for every other idea to gain traction.
This bill might have affected the shooter who murdered 26 Texans in a Sutherland Springs church in November; the U.S. Air Force admitted it failed to register the killer’s name after he was disciplined for domestic abuse.
It likely would not have affected the shooter who murdered 58 people in Las Vegas in October, or the 19-year-old who murdered 17 former classmates at a Florida high school recently; both legally purchased the weapons used in their rampages. So, no, plugging leaks in the existing database is not a blanket fix.
It is, however, a bipartisan crack in what has been a frozen expanse of unyielding political ice. In both practical and symbolic terms, the proposed “Fix NICS Act” to ensure compliance with existing law might do more to keep deadly weapons away from people already prohibited from owning them.
And it’s a signal that, yes, there is a little square of legislative turf where Democrats, Republicans and gun-control advocates and Second Amendment proponents can agree.
Currently, the proposal has 50 legislative co-sponsors — an impressive consensus in this polarized debate. President Donald Trump endorsed the measure (albeit while recommending a name change).
Senate Majority Whip Cornyn and Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy led a group of eight senators who introduced the measure following the Sutherland Springs murders. The act incentivizes compliance by putting states and agencies that keep their NICS entries up to date at the head of the line for some Justice Department grants. In addition, it penalizes political appointees in federal agencies that fall behind by making them ineligible for salary bonuses.
“Every day we’ve let the current dysfunction in the background check system continue, lives are in jeopardy,” Cornyn said in December at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
More recently, Cornyn has signaled a willingness to engage in informal meetings with Democratic colleagues — specifically, liberal California Democrat Dianne Feinstein — to discuss “Fix NICS” and other measures affecting gun policy.
“I offered to buy lunch — or breakfast,” Cornyn told reporters.
There are a lot of anxious Americans who would be delighted to pick up the tab for those pancakes. They are the millions who may not yet agree on what measures should be taken to address gun violence, but who are joining a growing consensus that “nothing” is not the right answer.
“Fix NICS” is not a cure-all, but it’s also a dismissive exercise in cynicism to dismiss the measure as too-little-and-too-late. As we say in these parts, it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
It’s a start.