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DeFazio defends record on firearms legislation.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Peter DeFazio

In a Feb. 14 guest viewpoint, Portland resident Keith Cunningham-Parmeter distorted and ignored facts of my record and statements to build a case that I am in the pocket of the National Rifle Association and oppose expanding gun background checks. This is an outright lie.

With minimal research, professor Cunningham-Parmeter would have found that in 1993, I voted for the Brady Bill, which required states to computerize and update their criminal records systems and implement a nationwide point-of-purchase instant criminal background check system, or NCIS. The system has prevented more than 2 million prohibited individuals from purchasing firearms.

Cunningham-Parmeter says, "Although he has favored background checks in certain circumstances, DeFazio refused to require such checks at gun shows." In 1999, I voted for the McCarthy amendment, which would have added the strongest background check language to House Resolution 2122, the Mandatory Gun Show Background Check Act. The amendment required background checks on private sales at gun shows nationwide. Unfortunately, the effort was watered down and eventually failed. In 2000, I publicly supported Measure 5, which required background checks on all gun purchases at gun shows in Oregon.

If Cunningham-Parmeter read his local paper, The Oregonian, just five days before The Register-Guard printed his piece of fiction, he would have read that I was "fully in line with the White House" on expanding background checks.

The professor apparently neglected to watch the recent gun control hearings in Congress, where NRA head Wayne LaPierre testified that the NRA does not support any expansion of background checks on any gun sales. My position on background checks is strongly opposed by the NRA. These inconvenient facts would have destroyed his argument.

Despite his focus on background checks, Cunningham-Parmeter minimizes the role that mental health issues play in gun violence. Mental health reporting and background checks are intrinsically linked.

In 17 states, no individual is prevented from purchasing a firearm for mental health reasons. Twenty-one states have reported fewer than 100 mental health records due to privacy concerns and other barriers. There's simply no way there are fewer than 100 people in 38 states considered a potential threat to themselves or others.

Despite a history of mental illness that should have prevented the Virginia Tech shooter from purchasing a firearm, he was able to purchase handguns from two licensed dealers and kill or injure almost 60 people because his records weren't reported to the NCIS. After that shooting, I voted for legislation to help states improve systems for reporting mental health history, criminal records, and domestic violence restraining orders to help ensure prohibited persons didn't get access to firearms.

The Aurora, Colo., shooter was receiving mental health services, but his history wasn't reported and he was able to purchase firearms that he used to kill or injure more than 50 people.

In the Tucson, Ariz., shooting, which injured my former colleague Gabby Giffords, the shooter was considered such a threat that officials banned him from returning to a community college campus until he was cleared by a mental health professional. However, concerns about his mental health were not reported to authorities and he was able to pass a background check and purchase a semi-automatic handgun that was used to kill or injure 19 people.

We must be sensitive about mental health privacy and don't want to discourage people from seeking help when they are in crisis, but there must be a threshold established so seriously mentally unstable individuals are not able to legally purchase a firearm and harm themselves or others. This issue will be extraordinarily difficult to resolve - but even with the extreme partisanship in the House, removing these mental health barriers could have a chance of passage.

Still, it's not clear what measures will come forward in the Republican-controlled House. I believe that we have a good chance to pass a real and meaningful expansion of background checks. I hope we can pass strong penalties on straw purchasers, which supplied the handguns and shotguns for the Columbine shooting. There is also some chance to pass legislation that will restrict high-capacity magazines.

I don't take orders from the NRA, and I don't take orders from gun control advocates. I do listen to the thousands of constituents who have called or e-mailed my office to express their opinions. I live two miles from Thurston High School and shared the grief of the families and neighbors impacted by those tragic shootings and those that have come since. And I take great offense with the accusations in Cunningham-Parmeter's work of fiction.

I will continue to work to pass effective legislation that will stop the tragedies like Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, and Thurston that have plagued our country for too long.

Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, represents Oregon's 4th District in Congress.
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Title Annotation:Local Opinion
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 17, 2013
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