“Don’t worry. I’m on it.”
That’s what Amy Schumer said last week, in response to an open letter imploring her to join the fight to prevent gun violence that came in the wake of a shooting at a Trainwreck screening in Louisiana at which John Russell Houser killed two women and injured nine other people before taking his own life.
Monday morning, Schumer stood with her cousin, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), as he announced new legislation aimed at tightening gun laws and increasing funds for mental healthcare.
“The critics scoff and say, ‘There is no way to stop crazy people from doing crazy things,’” Amy said at the press conference. “They’re wrong.”
The first point in Schumer’s “three-pronged plan” is to reward states for submitting to the national background check system and penalize the states that don’t. The flaws in the system — that, most obviously and crucially, a national registry of people who are forbidden from buying guns only works if all the people who are forbidden from buying guns are actually on said registry — have been getting heightened attention since the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007.
The Virginia Tech shooter wasn’t in the system, but he should have been: a judge had ruled in 2005 that the shooter “presents an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness,” a ruling that should have barred the shooter from buying the guns he used to commit the massacre. Confusing language in the law prevented his name from being entered into the federal database.
Flawed background checks were an issue with Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, although that case is a bit more complicated: Roof had been arrested earlier this year for drug possession, but the police department listed the wrong arresting agency in his records. Roof was flagged by the background check system and an FBI examiner had three days to find the necessary information to determine whether or not Roof could purchase the gun. At the end of the three days, the FBI examiner hadn’t found the information yet; the dealer decided to sell Roof the gun anyway. At the time, F.B.I director James B. Comey told the New York Times that the DOJ’s inspector general “has been investigating the three-day loophole for sometime.”
The second piece entails the Schumers “urg[ing] the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) to write a comprehensive report comparing all states’ standards for involuntary mental health commitment and urge the DOJ to put forth recommendations on best practices.” The Lafayette shooter had a well-documented history of being dangerously mentally ill. At one point, a court ordered him to be involuntarily taken to the hospital for a mental health evaluation.
But the line there is tricky: Only individuals who are involuntarily committed are prohibited from buying guns. Individuals who are involuntarily admitted for observations or evaluations are not. So the Schumers’ request is that the DOJ clarify when, exactly, a commitment reaches a gun-prohibiting status, and if that determination needs to be altered in any way from its current form.
Schumer’s third goal is to fully fund the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which the Senate’s budget proposal currently recommends cutting by $159 million.
Police have yet to determine an official motive for the shooting; Houser took his own life after his shooting spree, so we may never know for sure. What we do know is that Houser likely selected the screening of Trainwreck in advance (he’d written the details of the showing in his journal that weekend). Though initially some thought Houser chose Trainwreck for its closeness to an emergency exit, it turns out that all the auditoriums at the Grand Theatre have emergency exits and plenty have easy access to the parking lot. And the room in which Trainwreck was showing is actually one of the smaller theaters in the complex, according to Lafayette Police Department public information officer Paul Mouton.
The shooter was a virulent anti-Semite who praised Hitler in online forums, and a misogynist who “had an issue with feminine rights. He was opposed to women having a say in anything,” as Calvin Floyd, former host of “Rise and Shine” on WLTZ NBC 38 in Columbus, Georgia, who hosted Houser on his show a number of times, told the Washington Post. In 2008, his wife and other family members had asked for a temporary protective order against him “because he was a danger to himself an others.” Amy Schumer, Trainwreck’s writer and star, is a feminist and is half-Jewish.
“These are my first public comments on the issue of gun violence,” Amy said Monday. “I can promise you this: they will not be my last.”