Editorial: Costello has good idea on issue of guns, domestic abuse
As our nation struggles to come to grips with the latest in a series of all too common mass shootings, one clear lesson from the tragedy was that laws are only as effective as the people put in charge of implementing them.
The man who killed 26 people in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, was able to acquire powerful firearms due to a failure in the background check system. A domestic violence case while he was in the Air Force should have rendered him ineligible to buy a gun, but the military failed to report the conviction to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. It turns out that's all too common, and the military says it is taking steps to address the problem.
There are other faults in the background check system that have put guns in the wrong hands far too often. There's a particular need to tighten enforcement of laws concerning domestic violence and firearms. The horrific crime in Texas, with its apparent roots in a domestic violence case, is a stark reminder that improvements are needed.
With that in mind, we applaud U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello for playing a leading role in developing legislation aimed at making background checks more comprehensive. Costello, a Chester County Republican who represents much of Berks County, displayed admirable bibartisanship in working with Rep. Kathleen Rice, a New York Democrat, on the bill.
Though a 1996 federal law made it illegal for anyone convicted of domestic abuse to buy a firearm, too often it has failed to stop such people from getting guns.
The system is only as good as the information put into it, so Costello and Rice's legislation calls on states to prioritize and increase reporting of their criminal records to the national database. The Domestic Violence Records Reporting Improvement Act of 2017 would provide incentives for states to report domestic violence records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and expand availability of grants to help states carry out this reporting.
Costello cited a 2016 government study that found about 6,700 firearms were transferred to domestic abusers since 2006 because of incomplete records reporting. Clearly something needs to be done to better protect the many people at risk of being hurt or killed by an abuser, especially one who possesses a deadly weapon.
And as we saw in Texas, it's not just those who know the abuser who are put in danger when such unstable individuals are allowed to be armed. Using FBI data and other public information, in an analysis of 156 U.S. mass shootings from 2009 to 2016, the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety found that 54 percent were related to domestic or family violence.
We hope this bill gains bipartisan support in Congress and among the public. It was heartening to hear retired astronaut Mark Kelly speaking strongly in favor of it. His wife, former Rep. Gabrielle Gifford, was gravely injured in a 2011 mass shooting in Arizona.
"This shooting in Sutherland Springs is the perfect nexus between domestic violence and easy access to firearms," he said. "We know there are gaps in our laws so we need to introduce legislation that will close these loopholes. This is not that hard."
We hope Costello's colleagues in Congress can see the clear logic in that statement, and in this legislation.