Tag Archives: background checks

Senate Republicans defeat gun violence prevention measures

The U.S. Senate has voted down gun violence prevention amendments just a week after 49 people were massacred and 53 others were injured in an attack on a gay club in Orlando, Florida.

The votes went largely along party lines, with Republicans siding with the National Rifle Association.

The amendments to the FY 17 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, H.R. 2578) were introduced by U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

Feinstein’s proposal would have ensured the U.S. Justice Department, which backed the measure, had the authority to deny gun sales to individuals it had a reasonable suspicion were involved in terrorism.

Murphy’s proposal would have tightened the unlicensed seller loophole by requiring criminal background checks on all sales while maintaining reasonable exceptions for family, hunting, and emergency self-defense.

“We are deeply disappointed in each and every senator who failed to stand up today for commonsense gun violence prevention legislation,” said David Stacy of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group.

He continued, “For decades, LGBTQ people have been a target for bias-motivated violence, and easy access to deadly weapons has compounded this threat. The volatile combination of animosity towards the LGBTQ community and easy access to deadly weapons exacerbates the climate of fear and the dangers faced by LGBTQ people. Reasonable gun violence prevention measures are part of the solution to bias-motivated violence, and it’s critical that Congress pass commonsense legislation.”

HRC had urged senators to vote for the Democrats’ measures in a letter sent following the mass shooting in Orlando committed by a violent man who had easy access to guns.

HRC, in its statement, said the degree of bloodshed at the Pulse nightclub and many other recent mass shootings “may have been avoided if the perpetrators had faced reasonable restrictions on their ability to own a gun. In most states across the country, troubled individuals intent on carrying out violence can purchase assault-type weapons without a background check from an unlicensed seller, no questions asked, including in Florida.”

Erica Lafferty Smegielski of the Everytown Survivor Network called the senators who voted against the measures spineless.

“Following the worst mass shooting in modern American history, spineless members of the Senate blocked critical measures that would have kept guns out of the hands of dangerous, hateful people and saved innocent lives from gun violence,” said Smegielski.

“Three years ago, some of those same politicians blocked a gun safety bill after my mother was shot and killed in the Sandy Hook School shooting. Tonight’s shameful vote brings that day back all too clearly — the anger, the disappointment, the sense of injustice,” Smegielski continued. She is the daughter of Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, who was shot and killed Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Recent polls show a supermajority of Americans support common sense solutions to gun violence, including expanded background checks.

Some Republicans in the Senate, including Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, supported an NRA-approved proposal to deny a gun sale to a known or suspected terrorist if prosecutors could convince a judge within three days that the buyer was involved in terrorist activity.

Gun control advocates mocked the proposal, which also was supported by Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rob Portman of Ohio. Toomey, Johnson and Portman are considered vulnerable this election cycle, facing strong Democratic challengers.

Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, also faces a strong Democratic challenge from U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth but he supported the Democrats’ proposals to expand background checks, close the gun show loophole and allow the government to deny gun sales to suspected terrorists.

“If you’re too dangerous to fly on a plane, you’re too dangerous to buy a firearm,” Kirk said, according to an AP report.

Before the Senate votes on June 20, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Connecticut’s assault weapons ban.

Editor’s note: this story will be updated.

Obama announces executive action to reduce gun violence Jan. 5: The fact sheet

On Jan. 5, in the East Room of the White House, President Barack Obama announced new executive actions to reduce gun violence.

Here’s the fact sheet provided on Jan. 4 by the White House’s Office of the Press Secretary:

Gun violence has taken a heartbreaking toll on too many communities across the country. Over the past decade in America, more than 100,000 people have been killed as a result of gun violence — and millions more have been the victim of assaults, robberies, and other crimes involving a gun. Many of these crimes were committed by people who never should have been able to purchase a gun in the first place.

Over the same period, hundreds of thousands of other people in our communities committed suicide with a gun and nearly half a million people suffered other gun injuries. Hundreds of law enforcement officers have been shot to death protecting their communities. And too many children are killed or injured by firearms every year, often by accident. The vast majority of Americans — including the vast majority of gun owners — believe we must take sensible steps to address these horrible tragedies. 

The president and vice president are committed to using every tool at the administration’s disposal to reduce gun violence. Some of the gaps in our country’s gun laws can only be fixed through legislation, which is why the President continues to call on Congress to pass the kind of commonsense gun safety reforms supported by a majority of the American people.

And while Congress has repeatedly failed to take action and pass laws that would expand background checks and reduce gun violence, today, building on the significant steps that have already been taken over the past several years, the administration is announcing a series of commonsense executive actions designed to:

1. Keep guns out of the wrong hands through background checks.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is making clear that it doesn’t matter where you conduct your business—from a store, at gun shows, or over the Internet: If you’re in the business of selling firearms, you must get a license and conduct background checks.

ATF is finalizing a rule to require background checks for people trying to buy some of the most dangerous weapons and other items through a trust, corporation, or other legal entity.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch has sent a letter to States highlighting the importance of receiving complete criminal history.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is overhauling the background check system to make it more effective and efficient. The envisioned improvements include processing background checks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and improving notification of local authorities when certain prohibited persons unlawfully attempt to buy a gun. The FBI will hire more than 230 additional examiners and other staff to help process these background checks.

2. Make our communities safer from gun violence.

The Attorney General convened a call with U.S. Attorneys around the country to direct federal prosecutors to continue to focus on smart and effective enforcement of our gun laws.

The President’s FY2017 budget will include funding for 200 new ATF agents and investigators to help enforce our gun laws.
ATF has established an Internet Investigation Center to track illegal online firearms trafficking and is dedicating $4 million and additional personnel to enhance the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network.

ATF is finalizing a rule to ensure that dealers who ship firearms notify law enforcement if their guns are lost or stolen in transit.

The Attorney General issued a memo encouraging every U.S. Attorney’s Office to renew domestic violence outreach efforts.

3. Increase mental health treatment and reporting to the background check system.
The Administration is proposing a new $500 million investment to increase access to mental health care.

The Social Security Administration has indicated that it will begin the rulemaking process to include information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons.

The Department of Health and Human Services is finalizing a rule to remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing

States from reporting relevant information about people prohibited from possessing a gun for specific mental health reasons.

4. Shape the future of gun safety technology.

The President has directed the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security to conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology.

The President has also directed the departments to review the availability of smart gun technology on a regular basis, and to explore potential ways to further its use and development to more broadly improve gun safety.
Congress should support the President’s request for resources for 200 new ATF agents and investigators to help enforce our gun laws, as well as a new $500 million investment to address mental health issues.

Because we all must do our part to keep our communities safe, the Administration is also calling on States and local governments to do all they can to keep guns out of the wrong hands and reduce gun violence. It is also calling on private-sector leaders to follow the lead of other businesses that have taken voluntary steps to make it harder for dangerous individuals to get their hands on a gun. In the coming weeks, the Administration will engage with manufacturers, retailers, and other private-sector leaders to explore what more they can do.

New Actions by the Federal Government

Keeping Guns Out of the Wrong Hands Through Background Checks

The most important thing we can do to prevent gun violence is to make sure those who would commit violent acts cannot get a firearm in the first place. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which was created by Congress to prevent guns from being sold to prohibited individuals, is a critical tool in achieving that goal. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the background check system has prevented more than 2 million guns from getting into the wrong hands. We know that making the system more efficient, and ensuring that it has all appropriate records about prohibited purchasers, will help enhance public safety. Today, the Administration is announcing the following executive actions to ensure that all gun dealers are licensed and run background checks, and to strengthen the background check system itself:

Clarify that it doesn’t matter where you conduct your business—from a store, at gun shows, or over th Internet: If you’re in the business of selling firearms, you must get a license and conduct background checks.

Background checks have been shown to keep guns out of the wrong hands, but too many gun sales—particularly online and at gun shows—occur without basic background checks. Today, the Administration took action to ensure that anyone who is “engaged in the business” of selling firearms is licensed and conducts background checks on their customers. Consistent with court rulings on this issue, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has clarified the following principles:

A person can be engaged in the business of dealing in firearms regardless of the location in which firearm transactions are conducted. For example, a person can be engaged in the business of dealing in firearms even if the person only conducts firearm transactions at gun shows or through the Internet. Those engaged in the business of dealing in firearms who utilize the Internet or other technologies must obtain a license, just as a dealer whose business is run out of a traditional brick-and-mortar store.Quantity and frequency of sales are relevant indicators. There is no specific threshold number of firearms purchased or sold that triggers the licensure requirement. But it is important to note that even a few transactions, when combined with other evidence, can be sufficient to establish that a person is “engaged in the business.” For example, courts have upheld convictions for dealing without a license when as few as two firearms were sold or when only one or two transactions took place, when other factors also were present.

There are criminal penalties for failing to comply with these requirements. A person who willfully engages in the business of dealing in firearms without the required license is subject to criminal prosecution and can be sentenced up to five years in prison and fined up to $250,000. Dealers are also subject to penalties for failing to conduct background checks before completing a sale.

Require background checks for people trying to buy some of the most dangerous weapons and other items through a trust or corporation.

The National Firearms Act imposes restrictions on sales of some of the most dangerous weapons, such as machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. But because of outdated regulations, individuals have been able to avoid the background check requirement by applying to acquire these firearms and other items through trusts, corporations, and other legal entities. In fact, the number of these applications has increased significantly over the years—from fewer than 900 applications in the year 2000 to more than 90,000 applications in 2014. ATF is finalizing a rule that makes clear that people will no longer be able to avoid background checks by buying NFA guns and other items through a trust or corporation.
Ensure States are providing records to the background check system, and work cooperatively with jurisdictions to improve reporting. Congress has prohibited specific categories of people from buying guns—from convicted felons to users of illegal drugs to individuals convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence. In the wake of the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, Congress also created incentives for States to make as many relevant records as possible accessible to NICS. Over the past three years, States have increased the number of records they make accessible by nearly 70 percent. To further encourage this reporting, the Attorney General has written a letter to States highlighting the importance of receiving complete criminal history records and criminal dispositions, information on persons disqualified for mental health reasons, and qualifying crimes of domestic violence. The Administration will begin a new dialogue with States to ensure the background check system is as robust as possible, which is a public safety imperative.

Make the background check system more efficient and effective.

In 2015, NICS received more than 22.2 million background check requests, an average of more than 63,000 per day. By law, a gun dealer can complete a sale to a customer if the background check comes back clean or has taken more than three days to complete. But features of the current system, which was built in the 1990s, are outdated. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will take the following steps to ensure NICS operates more efficiently and effectively to keep guns out of the wrong hands:

FBI will hire more than 230 additional NICS examiners and other staff members to assist with processing mandatory background checks. This new hiring will begin immediately and increase the existing workforce by 50 percent. This will reduce the strain on the NICS system and improve its ability to identify dangerous people who are prohibited from buying a gun before the transfer of a firearm is completed.

FBI has partnered with the U.S. Digital Service (USDS) to modernize NICS. Although NICS has been routinely upgraded since its launch in 1998, the FBI is committed to making the system more efficient and effective, so that as many background checks as possible are fully processed within the three-day period before a dealer can legally sell a gun even if a background check is not complete. The improvements envisioned by FBI and USDS include processing background checks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to improve overall response time and improving notification of local authorities when certain prohibited persons unlawfully attempt to purchase a firearm.

Making Our Communities Safer from Gun Violence

In order to improve public safety, we need to do more to ensure smart and effective enforcement of our gun laws and make sure that criminals and other prohibited persons cannot get their hands on lost or stolen weapons. The Administration is therefore taking the following actions:
Ensure smart and effective enforcement of our gun laws.

In a call earlier today, the Attorney General discussed the importance of today’s announcements and directed the Nation’s 93 U.S. Attorneys across the country to continue to focus their resources—as they have for the past several years under the Department’s Smart on Crime initiative—on the most impactful cases, including those targeting violent offenders, illegal firearms traffickers, and dangerous individuals who bypass the background check system to acquire weapons illegally. During the call, the Attorney General also emphasized ongoing initiatives to assist communities in combating violent crime, including ATF’s efforts to target the “worst of the worst” gun crimes. These efforts will also complement the following actions announced today:

The President’s budget for FY2017 will include funding for 200 new ATF agents and investigators who can help enforce our gun laws, including the measures announced today. Strategic and impactful enforcement will help take violent criminals off the street, deter other unlawful activity, and prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands
ATF is dedicating $4 million and additional personnel to enhance the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN). The NIBIN database includes ballistic evidence that can be used by analysts and investigators to link violent crimes across jurisdictions and to track down shooters who prey on our communities. In February 2016, ATF is standing up the National NIBIN Correlation and Training Center—which will ultimately provide NIBIN matching services at one national location, rather than requiring local police departments to do that work themselves. The Center will provide consistent and capable correlation services, making connections between ballistic crime scene evidence and crime guns locally, regionally, and nationally. These enhancements will support ATF’s crime gun intelligence and enforcement efforts, particularly in communities most affected by violent crime.
ATF has established an Internet Investigations Center (IIC) staffed with federal agents, legal counsel, and investigators to track illegal online firearms trafficking and to provide actionable intelligence to agents in the field. The IIC has already identified a number of significant traffickers operating over the Internet. This work has led to prosecutions against individuals or groups using the “dark net” to traffic guns to criminals or attempting to buy firearms illegally online.
Ensure that dealers notify law enforcement about the theft or loss of their guns. Under current law, federal firearms dealers and other licensees must report when a gun from their inventory has been lost or stolen. The regulations are ambiguous, however, about who has this responsibility when a gun is lost or stolen in transit. Many lost and stolen guns end up being used in crimes. Over the past five years, an average of 1,333 guns recovered in criminal investigations each year were traced back to a licensee that claimed it never received the gun even though it was never reported lost or stolen either. Today, ATF issued a final rule clarifying that the licensee shipping a gun is responsible for notifying law enforcement upon discovery that it was lost or stolen in transit.

Issue a memo directing every U.S. Attorney’s Office to renew domestic violence outreach efforts.

In the event of an emergency, victims of domestic violence should call 911 or otherwise contact state or local law enforcement officials, who have a broader range of options for responding to these crimes. To provide an additional resource for state, local, and tribal law enforcement and community groups focused on domestic violence, the Attorney General is issuing a memo directing U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country to engage in renewed efforts to coordinate with these groups to help combat domestic violence and to prevent prohibited persons from obtaining firearms.
Increase Mental Health Treatment and Reporting to the Background Check System
The Administration is committed to improving care for Americans experiencing mental health issues. In the last seven years, our country has made extraordinary progress in expanding mental health coverage for millions of Americans. This includes the Affordable Care Act’s end to insurance company discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, required coverage of mental health and substance use disorder services in the individual and small group markets, and an expansion of mental health and substance use disorder parity policies, all of which are estimated to help more than 60 million Americans. About 13.5 million more Americans have gained Medicaid coverage since October 2013, significantly improving access to mental health care. And thanks to more than $100 million in funding from the Affordable Care Act, community health centers have expanded behavioral health services for nearly 900,000 people nationwide over the past two years. We must continue to remove the stigma around mental illness and its treatment—and make sure that these individuals and their families know they are not alone. While individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, incidents of violence continue to highlight a crisis in America’s mental health system. In addition to helping people get the treatment they need, we must make sure we keep guns out of the hands of those who are prohibited by law from having them. Today, the Administration is announcing the following steps to help achieve these goals:

Dedicate significant new resources to increase access to mental health care.

Despite our recent significant gains, less than half of children and adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need. To address this, the Administration is proposing a new $500 million investment to help engage individuals with serious mental illness in care, improve access to care by increasing service capacity and the behavioral health workforce, and ensure that behavioral health care systems work for everyone. This effort would increase access to mental health services to protect the health of children and communities, prevent suicide, and promote mental health as a top priority.

Include information from the Social Security Administration in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm.

Current law prohibits individuals from buying a gun if, because of a mental health issue, they are either a danger to themselves or others or are unable to manage their own affairs. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has indicated that it will begin the rulemaking process to ensure that appropriate information in its records is reported to NICS. The reporting that SSA, in consultation with the Department of Justice, is expected to require will cover appropriate records of the approximately 75,000 people each year who have a documented mental health issue, receive disability benefits, and are unable to manage those benefits because of their mental impairment, or who have been found by a state or federal court to be legally incompetent. The rulemaking will also provide a mechanism for people to seek relief from the federal prohibition on possessing a firearm for reasons related to mental health.
Remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing States from reporting relevant information to the background check system. 

Although States generally report criminal history information to NICS, many continue to report little information about individuals who are prohibited by Federal law from possessing or receiving a gun for specific mental health reasons. Some State officials raised concerns about whether such reporting would be precluded by the Privacy Rule issued under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Today, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule expressly permitting certain HIPAA covered entities to provide to the NICS limited demographic and other necessary information about these individuals.

Shaping the Future of Gun Safety Technology

Tens of thousands of people are injured or killed by firearms every year—in many cases by guns that were sold legally but then stolen, misused, or discharged accidentally. Developing and promoting technology that would help prevent these tragedies is an urgent priority. America has done this in many other areas—from making cars safer to improving the tablets and phones we use every day. We know that researchers and engineers are already exploring ideas for improving gun safety and the tracing of lost or stolen guns. Millions of dollars have already been invested to support research into concepts that range from fingerprint scanners to radio-frequency identification to microstamping technology.

As the single largest purchaser of firearms in the country, the Federal Government has a unique opportunity to advance this research and ensure that smart gun technology becomes a reality—and it is possible to do so in a way that makes the public safer and is consistent with the Second Amendment. Today, the President is taking action to further this work in the following way:

Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security to take two important steps to promote smart gun technology.

Increase research and development efforts. The Presidential Memorandum directs the departments to conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology that would reduce the frequency of accidental discharge or unauthorized use of firearms, and improve the tracing of lost or stolen guns. Within 90 days, these agencies must prepare a report outlining a research-and-development strategy designed to expedite the real-world deployment of such technology for use in practice.

Promote the use and acquisition of new technology. The Presidential Memorandum also directs the departments to review the availability of smart gun technology on a regular basis, and to explore potential ways to further its use and development to more broadly improve gun safety. In connection with these efforts, the departments will consult with other agencies that acquire firearms and take appropriate steps to consider whether including such technology in specifications for acquisition of firearms would be consistent with operational needs.

Baldwin calls for social media background checks in screening process

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin joined more than 20 Senate Democrats in urging Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and the agency to require social media background checks be a part of the screening process for all foreigners seeking an American visa.

The Senate Democrats also requested more information from the department on the existing screening process, such as if the agency faces any resource barriers to implementing these background checks, to ensure the process is as rigorous and comprehensive as possible.

The letter, signed by 22 Senate Democrats, follows reports that the female assailant in the San Bernardino terrorist attack may have expressed radical jihadis sentiments on social media platforms before her fiancé — the male attacker and a U.S. Citizen — ‎applied for a K-1 fiancé visa on her behalf.

Here’s the letter by Senate Democrats to the Johnson:

We write to express our deep concern regarding reports that critical background information of individuals participating in American visa programs has been largely omitted from the visa security screening process. 

According to recent reports, the female assailant involved in the San Bernardino terrorist attack may have expressed radical jihadist sentiments on social media platforms before her U.S. citizen fiancé, the male attacker, ‎applied for a K-1 fiancé visa on her behalf. Media reports have also indicated that Department of Homeland Security officials are able to conduct social media background checks as a part of certain immigration programs, but are doing so inconsistently. We believe these checks, focused on possible connections to terrorist activity, should be incorporated into DHS’s vetting process for visa determinations, and that this policy should be implemented as soon as possible. 

Therefore, we request that you provide the following information so that we may work with you to implement a more rigorous screening process:

Do you plan to integrate social media background checks into the screening process for all visas?

Do you face resource and/or technical barriers to ‎implementing these background checks? If so, please describe them.

Does the Administration conduct social media background checks in any of the existing screening processes for visa programs? If so, please describe how they are conducted.

Ensuring that the screening processes for our nation’s visa programs are rigorous and comprehensive must be a top priority, as these programs are critical to our security, our economy, and for our bilateral relationships with nations around the world. 

We look forward to working with you to establish a more robust social media background check process for all visitors and immigrants to the United States.

Baldwin wants White House to explore options to reduce gun violence

Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin joined Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal in leading a group of 24 senators asking President Barack Obama to investigate and pursue all possible options under his executive authority to reduce gun violence.

In a letter to the president, the senators urged him to eliminate a loophole that allows individuals without a federal license to conduct high volumes of gun sales at gun shows, over the Internet, and elsewhere, all without conducting background checks.

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, sent a similar letter signed by 114 of his colleagues in the House.

“We stand with you determined to take action to reduce the terrible epidemic of gun violence plaguing this nation. All across the country, communities are ravaged and lives are senselessly cut short by gun violence. Following yet another horrific mass shooting in Roseburg, Oregon, it is unthinkable that our country can continue to turn a blind eye to these tragedies,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to address an aspect of the high-volume gun seller loophole that allows guns to be sold without a background check by eliminating the ambiguity surrounding the term ‘engaged in the business’ as it pertains to federally licensed firearms dealers.”

The letter said, “Updating the definition of ‘engaged in the business’ to provide more explicit guidance as to which gun sellers are required to obtain a federal firearms license would…help ensure that individuals are not able to continue to exploit ambiguity in the current regulation and sell guns at a high volume without any oversight by ATF and without conducting background checks… This change would be a positive step forward in achieving universal background checks, a policy change that roughly 90 percent of Americans support. It would help ensure that those clearly holding themselves out as gun dealers are held to the same standard as the thousands of responsible gun dealers already licensed with ATF across the country.”

Clinton vows executive action on gun control as president

Hillary Rodham Clinton offered an emotional plea for tougher gun control laws on Oct. 5, vowing after last week’s deadly Oregon school shooting to tighten regulations on firearms buyers and sellers with a combination of congressional and executive action.

Joined by the mother of a 6-year-old victim of the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the Democratic presidential candidate said there was little “new” and “nothing unique” about her plans – aside from her determination to take action.

During a campaign appearance at a town hall, Clinton decried the “extremism” that she said has come to characterize the debate over the nation’s gun laws. She veered between sadness and anger, accusing her Republican opponents of “surrender” to a difficult political problem.

“This epidemic of gun violence knows no boundaries, knows no limits of any kind,” she told the crowd of several hundred. “How many people have to die before we actually act, before we come together as a nation? It’s time for us to say we’re better than this.”

Clinton has made strengthening the nation’s gun laws a centerpiece of her presidential campaign following a series of mass shootings in the past few months.

Her campaign rolled out a robust set of proposals Monday, including using executive action as president to expand background check requirements. Under current federal law, such checks are not required for sales made at gun shows or over the Internet.

Clinton pledged to require anyone “attempting to sell a significant number of guns” to be considered a firearms dealer, and therefore need a federal license. She did not say how many gun sales would constitute a “significant” number.

Efforts to require such comprehensive background checks have failed several times in recent years in Congress, where Republican leaders have shown no willingness to even hold votes on efforts to curb access to guns.

Clinton’s attempt to circumvent staunch opposition would likely spark legal challenges from gun advocates, as well as from Republicans sure to question whether a president has the authority to act directly.

Clinton also said she would support a law to expand the definition of domestic abusers barred from buying guns. She also wants to prohibit retailers from selling guns to people with incomplete background checks, as happened in the June case of a man accused of killing nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Clinton proposed repealing legislation that shields gun manufacturers, distributors and dealers of firearms from most liability suits, including in cases of mass shootings.

While Clinton’s Republican rivals have condemned the Oregon attack, most were also quick to declare their opposition to stricter gun laws to address mass shootings.

Her plan strikes a contrast with her closest primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. While Sanders has wooed the Democratic base with his liberal positions on issues of income inequality and college debt, he’s struggled to defend a more mixed record on gun legislation that reflects his rural, gun-friendly home state.

After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, Sanders backed all the Democratic gun bills brought up in Congress. But in 1993, he voted against the landmark Brady handgun bill, which imposed a five-day waiting period for gun purchasers, and he backed legislation in 2005 granting legal immunity to many in the gun industry.

Sanders now says he supports banning assault weapons and closing the so-called gun show loophole that exempts private, unlicensed gun sales from background check requirements.

Clinton declined to address Sanders’ positions on guns directly during a Monday morning event hosted by NBC’s “Today” show, saying she’d let “Sen. Sanders talk about himself.”

But she said she wasn’t surprised by his recent rise in New Hampshire polls, mentioning his long tenure representing a neighboring state.

“I really believe this is great for the Democrats and this election,” she said of the competitive contest. “We really want to turn out as many people as possible.” 

Ignoring polls, Walker bows to ‘NRA masters’

Gov. Scott Walker said his administration would not push for more extensive background checks for gun owners in Wisconsin, despite recent polls showing overwhelming public support for the concept both in the state and nationally.

A Marquette University Law School poll released in March found that 81 percent of Wisconsinites favor background checks for people who purchase firearms at gun shows or from private residents, while only 18 percent oppose them. The response numbers were almost identical for people who own guns and those who don’t. The level of support was also nearly the same among men and women, as well as among residents in all parts of the state.

About 54 percent of Wisconsinites also said they favor banning military-style assault weapons, while 43 percent opposed such a ban.

Support for gun control reform seems to have spiked following the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last December. Mass shootings last year at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek and at the Azana Salon and Spa in Brookfield brought the growing problem of gun violence closer to home.

Walker has received extensive funding from the National Rifle Association, which vehemently opposes all background checks, including those designed to prevent convicts and people with a history of mental illness from buying guns, ammunition and explosives.

The NRA provided $815,000 in independent campaign support for Walker’s recall race last year, and the NRA Political Victory Fund gave $10,000 directly to his campaign. The latter was the single largest contribution made by the political action committee in 2012, according to the National Institute on State Money in Politics.

Walker maintains an A-plus rating with the NRA, and he was a featured speaker at the group’s national convention last year. The group has praised Walker for signing laws allowing Wisconsin residents to carry concealed weapons and providing legal protection to homeowners who shoot and kill intruders on their property. Both actions are high on the NRA’s priority list.

Gun control advocates in some states had hoped reform would come from a federal measure to require background checks for people purchasing guns and ammunition over the Internet and at gun shows. The proposal was the most serious attempt at gun-control reform in the past 20 years.

But the U.S. Senate nixed the proposal last month, and it faced likely defeat in the House, where tea party adherents largely control the agenda.

The proposal needed 60 votes to clear the Senate but received only 55. Forty-two Senators, including four Democrats, voted no. Wisconsin’s Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin voted for the bill, but Republican Sen. Ron Johnson voted against it.

Wisconsin currently requires people who purchase guns from federally licensed dealers to undergo background checks, but the state doesn’t regulate private transactions. Democrats have introduced a bill in the Legislature calling for universal background checks, which would make it illegal to buy or sell most firearms in the state without a background check.

But Walker said the issue should be left to the federal government to regulate, not individual states.

State Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, said Walker and Republican legislative leaders who have refused to act on the bill he introduced were showing a “failure of leadership.”

“They need to listen to people around the country, and certainly people in this state, who overwhelmingly feel that having background checks is important to have when you transfer guns,” Richards said.

The NRA has registered its opposition to Richards’ gun background check bill in Wisconsin. The measure appears all but dead in the Legislature given Walker’s position and opposition from Republican leaders.

The bill has generated support from Elvin Daniel, whose sister Zina Haughton was among seven people shot in an attack by her husband at the Azana spa in Brookfield last October. Haughton’s husband bought the handgun from a private owner just days before the shooting and after she was granted a restraining order against him.

Backers of the Democrats’ bill, including Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, argue a universal background check law may have prevented his purchase of the gun.

But Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, has called the Democrats’ bill an unnecessary political stunt that would deny gun owners’ constitutional rights. Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the bill is going nowhere.

Walker’s mental health

In announcing his opposition to any form of gun control, Walker said he would direct efforts to curb gun-related violence by providing better mental health care. Walker has proposed adding about $29 million in funding for mental health programs in the state, including community-based care for adults and children with severe mental illness.

The spending plan also would establish an Office of Children’s Mental Health.

“For us that’s really where we’re going to put our focal point on,” Walker said. “The bigger issue seems to be treating chronic, untreated mental illness.”

Progressive leaders in Wisconsin say they’re puzzled by Walker’s sudden interest in mental health services. which took a serious hit when he refused to extend BadgerCare to about 175,000 Wisconsin residents. The program provides health care services to the working poor, but Walker chose to cut its rolls rather than take federal dollars attached to President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which the governor rejects on ideological grounds.  Despite the objections of business and health care organizations in the state, Walker turned down $66 million in federal health dollars – dollars that Wisconsin taxpayers help to pay for.

Walker also distanced himself from health care reform by rejecting calls from Wisconsin’s medical and busineess leaders to create state-based insurance exchanges,

“There’s no question more funding for mental health services in Wisconsin is a good thing. But there’s also no question, based on his abysmal record, that Gov. Walker is not doing it out of concern for Wisconsinites struggling with mental health issues, but rather to advance his presidential ambitions and serve his National Rifle Association masters,” said One Wisconsin Now deputy director Mike Browne.

Democratic state Rep. Sandy Pasch, a former mental health nurse, said she’s pleased the governor is giving some attention to mental health, but she objects to the way he’s positioning it as a gun violence issue.

“One of the primary reasons people don’t seek mental health care is due to the stigma attached to it, and now the governor is linking it with gun violence in a very public way,” Pasch said. “If he wanted to link (the two), it should be in the context that people with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.”

Pasch also questioned whether the amount of funding requested by the governor is even enough to compensate for the loss of access to care resulting from Walker’s BadgerCare  cuts. She said that $12.5 million included in his $29 million mental health budget proposal is designated for people who are already incarcerated for crimes but are too unstable to stand trial.

“That money is just for Mendota (Mental Health Institute’s) forensic unit for people who have been arrested and may have a mental heath problem,” Pasch said. The new funding will get them out of jail and into the institute, where they can be brought up to a competency level to participate in their defense, she explained.

Pasch said the remaining money in the mental health budget would have to be divided among 72 counties, many of which lack mental health care providers and suffer from a scarcity of primary care physicians. For instance, the entire state north of  Wausau has only one or two child psychologists, Pasch said.

“It looks like the governor’s doing something, but it’s a misguided effort,” she concluded. “He needs to deal with guns and he needs to deal with mental health.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.