Today, we focus on the egregiously flawed gun violence prevention system in the U.S and the U.S. Senate’s baby steps approach to repairing it, despite historic and mounting public support for taking aggressive action. We also offer a brief update on today’s Radioactive & Hazardous Materials Interim Committee hearing.
Radioactive Materials Committee Update
As reported in Monday’s Alert: “This Wednesday, June 22, the Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Interim Committee will meet at the Roundhouse, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., in Room 307. We’re not asking you to take action –– this is FYI. The committee is scheduled to hear overview reports on the regulation of radioactive and hazardous materials from the state Environment Department; Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources Department; and the State Land Office. You can find the whole agenda at this link.
If that doesn’t interest you, this might: the committee’s full work plan for the interim period, “as scheduling permits,” includes the status of Holtec’s storage facility permit application, the implementation of the Produced Water Act, WIPP permit modifications, LANL’s plan for increased plutonium pit production, issues concerning downwinders, and “a proposed green amendment.” You’ll find the full list of work plan topics at this link. (The third page at that link lists subsequent meetings: Clovis in August, Grants in September, and back in Santa Fe in November.)
The meeting is open to the public and public comment is scheduled at 3:15 p.m. You don’t need to ask in advance––you can simply show up to the meeting and use the Public Comment sign-up sheet.
One of our members, Greg Corning, wrote us to ask that we seek specific information from the committee. So if you attend and offer comment, consider referencing his comment. From Greg — I hope a number of people will email committee members and urge them to bring up this question:
Ask of Eletha Trujillo [head of a WIPP working group] when will the Radioactive Waste Consultation Task Force be meeting?The WIPP task force is an inter-agency thing with members from several NM state departments (Health; Environment; Public Safety; Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources; State Fire Marshall; Transportation.) They’re supposed to keep a handle on Dept. on Energy’s plans, intentions, shenanigans.
Further background here: New Mexico Governor’s WIPP Task Force Holds Meeting. Note that much has been going on with radioactive waste and WIPP, but the task force has not met since October last year.
When might we expect a WIPP hearing to be scheduled?
Thank you Greg. Sorry for the late notice on this, but we did send out an Alert on this Monday. You still have time to make it to Room 307 to offer public comment at 3:15 today.
Who are we protecting here? U.S Senate nears agreement on a most tepid response to epidemic gun violence
As the Senate finally inches ever closer to a deal on gun violence prevention legislation, we are hearing reports on what may be part of the package… and what will not.
By a 64-34 vote, the U.S. Senate voted to speed up the passage of the bipartisan bill, meaning it could be signed into law next week.
Although significant, the proposal falls far short of what many Democrats and activists have called for in the wake of a spate of mass shootings. Eighteen-year-olds can still purchase an AR 15, for example, and while our national background check system remains deeply flawed, the measure includes tougher background checks for buyers younger than 21.
The new process would incentivize states to provide access to previously sealed juvenile records and could add several days to the waiting period before a purchase can be completed. But it does not mandate state sharing of juvenile criminal records
“States will control what [juvenile records] they’re willing to share. But our legislation provides an incentive for states to upload the records that reflect on the suitability of the individual to purchase a firearm,” said Cornyn, the lead GOP negotiator, on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon.
The bill calls for funding to encourage states to implement “red flag” laws to remove firearms from people considered a threat. The act also includes $15 billion in federal funding for mental health programs and school security upgrades.
And it closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole” by blocking gun sales to those convicted of abusing unmarried intimate partners, a loophole that has allowed men who have abused their partners to purchase firearms.
Make no mistake, these changes reflect progress, but also illuminate the inability of Congress to stand up to the NRA and gun rights advocates to substantially address the need to repair a deeply flawed National Instant Background Check System (NICS). From The NY Times “Loopholes and Missing Data: The Gaps in the Gun Background Check System”:
The National Instant Background Check System — three gargantuan, interlinked databases containing state and federal records collectively called “NICS” — is an administrative marvel, even its critics concede. In 2021, the system processed 40 million firearms transactions, 88 percent of them within a few minutes, and blocked hundreds of purchases per day attempted by people with criminal records, mental health problems, drug dependency or other factors that prevented them from buying a gun under state or federal law….while all 50 states participate in the system, it remains technically voluntary, so the federal government has no authority to order states to provide any records — or dictate a timetable for data to be delivered.NY Times “Loopholes and Missing Data: The Gaps in the Gun Background Check System”
Records on a buyer’s domestic violence, juvenile justice, and mental health history are among the hardest to track, collect or even define, according to people who have studied or worked with the background check system. As noted above, the new legislation will clarify what juvenile arrest records are needed from states to become part of the NCIS system, but it will not require that this data be provided. What kind of system is that? And what could the argument be that would justify withholding information on juvenile violent arrests or data on a juvenile making threats of violence against a school or classmates? Who are we trying to protect?
The compromise legislation under consideration would, for the first time, open up access to juvenile crime and mental health records for purchasers ages 18 to 21. But it could take years to establish protocols for states to turn over their data, mirroring the chronic challenges of collecting reliable mental health records….
The Senate package being negotiated, with Senator John Cornyn of Texas representing Republicans and Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut the Democrats, includes increased funding for the system and incentives for states to implement procedures to identify buyers with mental health issues, along with funding to address those problems.
But it does not give the F.B.I. significant new authority to force local governments to post the data needed to conduct comprehensive checks quickly.NY Times “Loopholes and Missing Data: The Gaps in the Gun Background Check System”
Th consequences of this flawed system are immense. And the new legislation does little to address these flaws. More from The NY Times:
Even the smallest error can lead, directly or indirectly, to tragedy. In 2014, a 15-year-old boy walked into his high school in Marysville, Wash., and fatally shot four students before killing himself. The gun he used was purchased by his father, who obtained it after a background check failed to flag an order of protection filed against him for assaulting his onetime partner, after local authorities failed to input a conviction for domestic abuse, which should have halted the sale instantly.
In another case, in 2017, a gunman burst into a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and shot 26 people to death with a semiautomatic weapon. He had purchased it after his background check did not include a domestic violence conviction prior to his discharge from the Air Force, which had failed to enter the conviction into the system.NY Times “Loopholes and Missing Data: The Gaps in the Gun Background Check System”
A separate but critical issue, gun violence prevention advocates say, is closing loopholes that permit private sellers to sell weapons without any background check at all. That idea, opposed by Republicans, was never seriously discussed in the current talks, in the interest of securing a bipartisan agreement that could get 60 votes.
Again, who are we protecting?
But as wide open as these gaps are, even when the system is working, it fails to identify hundreds, perhaps thousands, of gun purchasers who would never be able to purchase them if the system were tighter. The most recent study, undertaken by the nonprofit National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics in 2013, estimated that up to a quarter of all felony convictions were “not available” in NICS.
This is how the system is supposed to work.
Krys Dibella, co-owner of Tobacco Valley Gun in East Windsor, Conn., said that about a year and a half ago, a man who had a pistol permit walked into his store to buy a handgun.
Mr. Dibella said he called the state police in Connecticut, one of a handful of states that administers its own, more-stringent background check system, which is integrated with NICS.
“The cops said, ‘please hold,’ and about 10 minutes later three police cruisers showed up,” he recalled. “The police cuffed him in the store and left with him.” The police would tell him only that the man had an outstanding warrant.
But sadly, this kind of action is relatively rare, as the time constraints placed on investigations make the system even more vulnerable to error. The biggest problem with NICS, in the eyes of its critics, is the 72-hour rule or the so-called “Charleston loophole,” which permits buyers to pick up their weapons after three business days even if they have not yet been fully vetted, a scenario that can occur when a potential problem is identified that requires a follow-up investigation. The Charleston loophole is what enabled the Sutherland, Texas slaughter, referenced above.
The 72-hour rule, inserted at the behest of Republican lawmakers in negotiations over the Brady Bill three decades ago, played a direct role in one of the deadliest racial rampages in American history. A white supremacist who killed nine people at a predominantly Black church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015 was allowed to pick up his gun after three business days had elapsed even though a full review had not been completed.
Again, who are we protecting?
It later emerged that the gunman should have been barred from buying a firearm because he had previously admitted to police to having been in possession of a controlled substance. But confusion over local law enforcement records prevented authorities from spotting the issue within the designated time frame.
So while the legislation pending in the Senate represents some improvement in the nation’s response to an epidemic of gun violence, it falls very short of providing the kind of protection from guns that most Americans seek.
Who are we protecting? What we can do about this mess here in NM?
Advocacy Huddle: Gun Violence Prevention & a Plan for the Legislature
Weds, July 13. 6pm-7:30
We are working with Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, and representatives of Indivisible and the Santa Fe and ABQ school districts to organize this Zoom Huddle, and a student activist will be part of our panel. We will conduct a deep discussion of what we want from the legislature in 2023 and advocacy strategies to achieve it. This will be an important learning opportunity to become informed and engaged in this essential work. You will leave with a clear idea of the goal, the strategy, and what you can do now. Join us.
Register here. You must register to attend.
In solidarity and hope,
Paul & Roxanne