After the Toomey-Manchin amendment was voted down by our elected government officials even though polls showed that it had the support of over 90% of the US population, I emailed Tennessee’s US senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker (both Republicans), to express my disdain for their vote. I tried to send messages shaming them into admitting they were in the pockets of the NRA. I finally heard back from one: Bob Corker. Here is his message in its entirety. The staffer who wrote this was quite good. Notice the excuses framed as looking out for rights of rural people, etc., et al. It’s truly disgusting.
Dear Mr. Holstad,
Thank you for taking the time to contact my office to share your views about gun control legislation. Your input is important to me, and I appreciate the time you took to share your thoughts.
The right to own firearms for self-defense, and for other familiar purposes with my family and friends, is important to me as a Tennessean and as an American. It has been a tremendous honor to be given the opportunity by Tennesseans to weigh in on their behalf during such a critical time in our history as the Supreme Court has since provided great advances in securing the Second Amendment as a fundamental tenet of American liberty.
That said, what happened last month in the Senate cannot be satisfying to anyone. We spent the balance of a week debating the Toomey-Manchin amendment that, if enacted, would have had no effect on preventing the tragedies in Connecticut, in Colorado, in Arizona, or in many of the other recent mass killings, and would not have addressed the more critical issues involved in preventing that type of violence in the future.
When it comes to the many challenges facing parents, law enforcement, and our judicial system dealing with violent mentally ill people in our society, the inability to respond before violence occurs is a frustration widely known by communities across our country. The vast majority of Americans are rightly concerned that, without action, their community will suffer the consequences of this volatile status quo and be home to the next mass killing.
On mental health, there are three legs to the stool that need to be propped up. The first is ensuring that we are identifying those in our community that are dealing with mental illness and getting them to appropriate resources. Next, we need to confront the legal impediments and ambiguities that exist at the state and federal level to ensure that those that pose a danger to themselves or others can be dealt with in a way that ensures due process, but that also ensures necessary treatment is provided while clearly establishing when an individual becomes a prohibited gun owner. Finally, we need to work with states to ensure that the records of prohibited purchasers are reliably and efficiently added to the background check database.
A related problem is that only a very small fraction of all prohibited individuals attempting to illegally purchase firearms in Tennessee are actually prosecuted. I supported the Grassley amendment to help correct this gap in enforcement by providing additional resources for law enforcement and beefing up penalties for prohibited purchasers and those who facilitate illegal firearms transfers.
I think most Tennesseans believe, like I do, that we also should be improving background checks in a way that allows fast and accurate checks to be easily performed by law-abiding citizens, and that prevents criminals and the dangerously mentally ill from obtaining firearms, while at the same time ensuring that Second Amendment rights are not infringed upon.
However, the Toomey-Manchin amendment went too far in infringing Second Amendment rights and I opposed it for two main reasons. First, the amendment did not provide certainty about which firearms transfers required a background check and which didn’t. By failing to clearly state which transfers would become illegal, Americans would not have the notice they need to be able to avoid running afoul of federal criminal law and would likely face selective prosecutions. None of us should want to put law enforcement in a position where they can pick and choose what actions are criminal.
Second, the amendment required that firearm transfers between two private individuals be conducted through a licensed firearms dealer. I believe asking Americans to find and travel to a willing gun dealer and to pay an unknown, but potentially not insignificant, fee would lead to negative outcomes. It would substantially burden the exercise of a fundamental constitutional right, which would in turn discourage transfers from occurring within the background check system, resulting largely in over-criminalizing law abiding people. Particularly in rural areas, it was impossible to predict how far individuals may have to travel to find a dealer willing to perform this type of transfer, let alone how much they might be charged for the service.
These issues are complex and implicate our most fundamental constitutional rights of personal liberty and self-defense. Unfortunately, a single amendment became the litmus test for determining who wanted to prevent the type of violence that has shocked our conscience, and last month’s debate was cut short before real solutions that respected the Second Amendment could be considered. We owe it to all those who value our responsibilities toward the mentally ill, the safety of our communities, and the Second Amendment to get this right.
Thank you again for your letter. I hope you will continue to share your thoughts with me.
United States Senator
So that’s it. What do you think? Imagine, infringing on the rights of rural people to sell their guns in an effort to save lives. Wouldn’t want to do that, would we? Cause those rural people REALLY need to sell each other their guns. What a crock! And I’m so sick of blaming the mentally ill. I’d love to know how many gun homicides are committed by the so-called mentally ill each year versus “normal” people. Anyone got any stats? Considering there are over 30,000 violent gun deaths each year in the US, far and away more than any other country, I’d love to know how many are committed by the mentally ill. I doubt it’s many. Sure, they get the high profile mass slaughters, and it’s accurate to assign blame, but are the gang members in Chicago and L.A. mentally ill or just messed up individuals who need to be locked up? I’m sick of seeing the mentally ill blamed. That’s an NRA cop out, an easy excuse for them. They’re the truly bad people to blame, or at least their leadership is. And they claim to be patriots. It’s disgusting. WHAT’S SO DAMN HARMFUL ABOUT UNIVERSAL BACKGROUND CHECKS???