This is typically followed in the ensuing days by Republicans bringing up the myth that mass shootings only happen in “gun-free zones” — which doesn’t quite work when the shooting occurs at the U.S. Navy Yard — and demanding that we talk about mental health!
What they don’t mention is that they oppose the few ways we can address mental health that might prevent future mass shootings.
The first is improving background checks. Currently, an estimated 20 to 40 percent of firearms in this country are purchased without a check because of loopholes in the existing law. And where the checks are implemented, there are few limits on gun purchasers.
Mother Jones‘ Sydney Brownstone and Erika Eichelberger explained this after the Newtown massacre:
The law also defines disqualifying mental illness narrowly. It only forbids gun sales to people who have been determined by a court to be seriously mentally ill, or who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution. This means that the system often overlooks dangerous and disturbed people who don’t have a paper trail.
But one of the biggest issues with the current background check system is that many states submit little to no mental health data to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Only 27 states authorize or require reporting pertinent mental health data to NICS, according to Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Nearly half the states in the country submitted fewer than 100 records between 2004 and 2011. Seventeen states have submitted fewer than 10 records in total.
Bipartisan improvements to the nation’s background check system proposed earlier this year were filibustered in the U.S. Senate, even though 54 senators voted for them and an estimated 80 to 90 percent of Americans support universal background checks.