Can Mental Health-Background Check Bill Survive D.C. Gun Politics?


A sweeping mental health overhaul cast as a congressional response to gun violence could be running afoul of gun control, Politico reports. That is what happened the most recent time lawmakers tried to pass mental health legislation, after the 2012 Newtown, Ct., school massacre. The spate of mass killings over the past year reignited mental health reform efforts in of Congress. A bipartisan bill is gaining momentum in the Senate, with the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions likely to take it up early next year. The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health has a similar bill, and Speaker Paul Ryan this month said on “60 Minutes” that he wants Congress to move ahead on mental health.

The Senate's No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, has been working to gain support for his own mental health legislation, which includes language endorsed by the National Rifle Association. Cornyn says his bill would boost the federal background check system to prevent guns from getting into the hands of those with serious mental illness. Critics say the legislation actually loosens restrictions on gun purchases, under the umbrella of mental health reform. Cornyn told Politico he expects a hearing in the Judiciary Committee in January, and that he believes his bill will become “the engine that pulls the train” on mental health. Any push to include guns could create a wedge in the bipartisan coalition that has been working on a mental health overhaul that doesn’t involve the politically volatile issue. Cornyn has talked to Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), a sponsor of the main bipartisan mental health initiative, about packaging the two bills together. A spokesman said Cassidy is “supportive.”

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