GOP House panel chairman will consider gun bills

February 22, 2013 - 8:30 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said Friday that he's interested in writing legislation this year improving background checks for gun buyers and cracking down on illegal firearms sales.

In an interview, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., provided little detail about his plans. But he said the federal background check system should be fixed to make sure more people with serious mental illnesses don't get firearms.

Criminals and people with significant mental problems are among those barred by federal law from buying guns. States are supposed to supply the federal background check system with purchasers' mental health records, but often they do not because of privacy rules and other barriers.

"We want to improve that system to try to screen out people who should not be able to possess firearms," Goodlatte said.

Until now, House GOP leaders have only said they will wait to act until the Democratic-run Senate produces legislation. The Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., could begin writing its own gun curb measure in the next week or two.

Goodlatte did not say when his panel might write legislation, but he said he would not necessarily wait for the Senate to pass legislation.

President Barack Obama has proposed near-universal background checks. Currently, the checks are only required for purchases from federally licensed gun dealers, not sales between private individuals at gun shows, online or elsewhere.

Goodlatte said his legislation would be unlikely to require private background checks for private gun sales between people.

Obama also wants to ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds. Goodlatte said he opposes those ideas.

Goodlatte did not say when his panel might write legislation. His comments that the House would begin acting on gun legislation were first reported by Roll Call, a newspaper that covers Congress.

Details remain unclear about the mental health of Adam Lanza, who shot 26 people to death at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December. But shooters in some recent mass shootings have been afflicted with mental problems, including those involved in the Virginia Tech killings in 2007 and the 2011 Tucson attack that killed six people and wounded 13, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.

As other congressional Republicans have done, Goodlatte also complained that current gun laws are not being enforced sufficiently. He and other GOP members of the Judiciary Committee wrote letters Friday to Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, asking for data on federal firearms prosecutions for the past 11 years.