Just got this reply from Pat Leahy, senior senator from Vermont. Similar tone to responses I received from Congressman Welch and Governor Shumlin, they are trying to walk a fine line.
Dear Mr. Lagrow:
Thank you for contacting me about the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and gun control in the United States. I appreciate hearing from you on this very important issue.
The tragedy in Newtown left me shocked and horrified. As a father and grandfather, I cannot begin to imagine the pain and grief that the families of the victims are experiencing. Many constituents, like you, have written in to me in the past few weeks to express their support for meaningful changes to federal firearms policy. I have heard from parents, grandparents, veterans, teachers, hunters, and children, all expressing their belief that our laws need to be improved, and urging Congress to act. I have also heard from Vermonters, like you, who are concerned that new legislation could interfere with our Second Amendment rights.
I grew up hunting in Vermont and am still an avid target shooter. I value our Second Amendment rights, and the Supreme Court has said definitively that Americans are guaranteed its protections. But like all of the rights guaranteed by our Constitution, it is not absolute. I agreed with Justice Scalia when he wrote in the Supreme Court's District of Columbia v. Heller decision that the Second Amendment does not prohibit reasonable regulations. The factors underlying the terrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, are complex, and involve a host of issues relating to mental health treatment, firearms policy, and school safety. It is my hope that as this conversation continues, the Senate will hear from many Americans, including experts from law enforcement, from the mental health community, and from leaders in our educational system.
One thing that I am especially concerned about is the role that mental health records play in the purchasing of firearms. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, is an FBI database that is intended to provide licensed sellers with a quick and easy way to determine if, among other things, a buyer has a history of mental illness. Unfortunately, the majority—some estimates say as many as 91 percent—of mental health records are not in NICS, due to a lack of reporting and legitimate competing values involving privacy. But in order to be effective, the records that make up our background check system must be as complete as possible, and I support efforts to improve the inclusion of these records. In 2007, I worked with a bi partisan group of senators and r epresentatives to pass the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007. This bill, which was unanimously passed by both the House and Senate, helped to improve the collection o f records for inclusion in the f ederal background check system. The bill, which was unfortunately prompted by the tragic events at Virginia Tech in April of 2007, helped to improve the information sharing of criminal and mental he alth records between s tate and f ederal law enforcement agencies. I have supported strong funding for this law and will continue to do so and encourage state and local officials to play their important role in making the NICS database as complete as possible.
In the past weeks, many, including the President, have called for sensible changes to our federal gun laws. While this has traditionally been a difficult topic to broach in Congress. I am very hopeful that we will be able to work together and make meaningful changes to our national firearms policy, while still preserving the Second Amendment r ights that Vermonters cherish. I look forward to starting this conversation early this Congress, and I plan to hold a Judiciary Committee hearing on January 30 th at 10 a.m. on our national gun control policies. I encourage you to watch a live webcast of the hearing by click on the "Hearings" tab on the Committee website at www.judiciary.senate.gov
and locating the hearing titled, "What Should America Do About Gun Violence?" on January 30 . If there are practical, sensible, workable answers to prevent such unspeakable tragedy, we should make the effort to move them forward.
Thank you for contacting me. Please keep in touch.
United States Senator