Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


House Approves Gun Legislation


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.



And I'm Robert Siegel.

We have two developments on gun control to tell you about today. Both are related to the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in April.

NORRIS: Three members of the president's cabinet reported that they found problems with the system for conducting background checks. The names of people who should not be able to buy guns because of criminal conviction or mental incapacity are not making it in. And the House of Representatives passed a bill meant to strengthen that background checks system.

It's the first new gun control measure to have a good chance of becoming law in 13 years. And perhaps, even more surprising, the leading anti-gun Democrat on the bill worked with the National Rifle Association to get it passed.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports from the Capitol.


ANDREA SEABROOK: Speaking very generally, Democrats tend to support gun limits, while Republicans tend to oppose them. The NRA usually lines up with the Republicans. The Brady Group and other gun control advocates with the Democrats.

Well, today was not a day for generalizations. And one man who defies all these pigeonholes is Michigan Congressman John Dingell. He's a powerful Democratic chairman and a staunch believer in gun rights.

Representative JOHN DINGELL (Democrat, Michigan): I'm delighted to see that we're able to come together - Democrats and Republicans, friends of firearms and hunters and sportsmen and also those who are concerned about public safety and who desire to see to it that we have proper protection of persons against criminal misuse of firearms.

SEABROOK: The reason just about everyone lined up behind this bill: it directly addresses a problem pointed out by the Virginia Tech massacre, says House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer.

Representative Steny Hoyer (Democratic, Maryland): What happened at Virginia Tech was a glitch in the system. It allowed somebody, who with an obvious mental health problem and record, to buy a gun.

SEABROOK: Even Democrats and the NRA can agree on that, Hoyer says. So they worked together to bring this bill to the floor. It would improve state reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, making sure the names of criminals and people judged by a court to be mentally incapable are barred from buying guns.

The bill has so much support; the only person to speak against it during debate today was Texas Republican Ron Paul, a maverick libertarian running for the Republican presidential nomination. He called the bill, known in Congress speak, as H.R. 2640, flagrantly unconstitutional.

Representative RON PAUL (Republican, Texas): H.R. 2640 also seriously undermines the privacy rights of all Americans, gun owners and non-gun owners alike, by creating and expanding massive federal government databases, including medical and other private records of every American.

SEABROOK: But Paul's assertions were rebutted by a conservative member of his own party - Republican Dan Lungren of California.

Representative DAN LUNGREN (Republican, California): This is not open season on all the medical records of every American citizen. I think most Americans believe that if someone has been adjudicated with a mental defect, which is a danger to society, they ought not to have a weapon.

SEABROOK: Today's price for strange bedfellows goes to New York Democrat Carolyn McCarthy and the NRA. They are usually vehement opponents. McCarthy came to Congress after her husband was killed in a shooting and focuses much attention on promoting gun control. The NRA usually opposes everything McCarthy does, except today. This was her bill and she's taking flack for it, she says.

Representative CAROLYN McCARTHY (Democrat, New York): A lot of my friends on the gun safety issues were very upset that I worked with the NRA. I have to get past that. You know, to me, it was saving lives that's why I'm here in Congress, that's why I came to Congress. And you work with the people that can help you get the bill through.

SEABROOK: But when I asked McCarthy if we should expect more from this new partnership, she said she hope so, but didn't seem to be holding her breath.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.