Leading GOP Senator Offers Bill on Guns, Mental Health

WASHINGTON (AP) -

A leading Republican senator proposed a National Rifle Association-backed bill Wednesday that he said would make the federal background check system for gun buyers more effective and bolster programs for treating people with mental illness.

The measure drew criticism from groups advocating stricter controls over firearms, who singled out provisions they said would make it easier for some unstable people to obtain deadly weapons. But it was backed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which advocates for mentally ill people, and groups representing police organizations, correctional workers and social workers.

No. 2 Senate Republican John Cornyn of Texas unveiled the legislation in the wake of last month’s mass shooting in a Louisiana movie theater by a gunman with mental problems. That and other recent firearms attacks have called attention to holes in the background check system and programs for people with psychological difficulties.

The bill’s background check provisions are far weaker than Senate legislation that Republicans and the NRA killed two years ago; that legislation would have required the checks for firearms bought at gun shows and online.

Under Cornyn’s bill, states sending at least 90 percent of their records on people with serious mental problems to the federal background check database would get law enforcement grant increases of up to 5 percent. States providing less than that could see grants cut by similar amounts.

But gun-control advocates said the measure would also let people discharged from involuntary psychiatric treatment immediately purchase guns. Those patients currently have to win court approval to buy firearms.