Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) hinted on Tuesday that he would oppose a Democratic initiative to expand background checks to all gun purchases, but reiterated his support for an NRA-backed measure that would permit individuals deemed mentally ill or incompetent to purchase firearms more freely. Pryor is part of small group of Democrats in red states who have not endorsed universal background checks, even though the measure is supported by a majority of residents.
“You know, I’m a Second Amendment guy, everybody knows that. People in our state are very strong believers in the Second Amendment and the right to gun ownership,” Pryor told “The Alice Stewart Show,” which airs on KHTE 96.5 The Voice. The conservative Democrat then highlighted his co-sponsorship of an NRA concocted proposal that would reduce the number of records in the existing background check system by removing prohibitions against individuals who were involuntarily committed to mental institutions.
Pryor emphasized removing records from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, rather than broadening the requirement:
PRYOR: I do support improving the background check. I want to make sure that when we put data in the background check that we have the right kind of mental health data. We need integrity in that data to be in there and we also need a process where people can get their names out of there when the time is right. Either they got their name wrongly in the first place or they’ve gone through some issue or whatever and that’s behind them and they need to get their name out of the database. So I support a bipartisan bill on that, in fact I think it’s endorsed by the NRA, so I’m not like totally opposed to every single thing. I try to be reasonable on this.
Pryor, along with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mark Begich (R-AK), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), has introduced the NICS Reporting Improvement Act (S. 480). The Act clarifies that mentally ill people are prevented from obtaining firearms but defines that term narrowly, so as to allow patients who had been treated for mental illness to pass a federal background check and purchase guns.
For instance, federal law prohibits people who are ordered by a court into involuntary treatment, found to pose a danger to themselves or others, or lack the mental capacity to enter into legal contracts from buying weapons — even though individuals can petition to have their rights restored in 22 states. The bipartisan NICS Reporting Improvement Act would allow these people to purchase weapons immediately after being released, unless it can be proven that they pose an “imminent” danger.
Since the shooting at Virginia Tech, the number of mental health records in NICS has grown from 200,000 to 1.2 million, though “millions of records identifying seriously mentally ill people and drug abusers as prohibited purchasers are missing from the federal background check database because of lax reporting by state agencies,” a report from Mayors Against Illegal Guns found. Pryor’s bill would keep even more mentally ill individuals out of the system.
“I doen’t listen to [New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg] on these issues, I listen to Arkansas,” Pryor said. A recent poll found that 84 percent of Arkansans support expanding background checks to all firearm purchsases.