By: Jim Sensenbrenner
We have a long-standing tradition of embracing outdoor recreation in Wisconsin. Our four seasons provide picturesque opportunities for hiking, boating, ice fishing and hunting. In fact, hunting is a hobby embraced by families across our great state that bonds together people from all walks of life.
The joy of hunting is just one of the many ways law-abiding Wisconsinites exercise their constitutionally protected right to bear arms — a right I have long defended.
In light of the many tragic shootings in our nation, much has been debated about firearm availability and safety. We can all agree that it’s essential to deny the sale of firearms to convicted felons, drug users, illegal aliens, those convicted of domestic violence and anyone deemed by a judge to be mentally ill. I have consistently supported this principle throughout my career in Congress, including in 1993, when I worked with members on both sides of the aisle to pass the Brady Handgun Prevention Act.
The law bears the namesake of my friend, Jim Brady, press secretary to President Ronald Reagan. Brady was critically injured during an assassination attempt on President Reagan by John Hinckley Jr. — a man whose record included both recent arrests and mental illness.
As members drafted the “Brady Bill,” I insisted on the inclusion of a timely background check system to prevent similar tragedies. This effort led to the 1998 launch of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System under the control of the FBI, now commonly known as NICS.
Under the system, firearm dealers cross-reference the information of prospective buyers with NICS data, to ensure that the purchaser is not on the list of convicted felons, drug users, illegal aliens, or those convicted of domestic violence.
But as I have stated many times, NICS is only as strong as the information entered into it. If federal agencies or other law enforcement bodies fail to provide NICS with the necessary information, dangerous individuals will slip through the cracks and purchase firearms.
To combat this, I recently supported passage of bipartisan legislation that protects the rights of all Wisconsinites and strengthens the enforcement of laws already on the books. The bill passed the House by a 231-198 vote.
The legislation puts measures in place to compel federal agencies to comply with existing NICS statutes. The bill also provides additional funding to assist state and local governments in providing all relevant information to NICS. Ensuring that the existing system functions properly will help us avoid future tragedies, like those in recent events.
On a Sunday morning this past October, a disturbed individual burst into a Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, shooting and killing 26 churchgoers and injuring 20 others. The shooter, who received a bad conduct discharge from the military and had a documented history of domestic abuse, unfortunately, had no trouble purchasing his weapons. Had the Department of Defense properly reported his history to the FBI, he would have been flagged in NICS, and the dealer would have been legally obligated to deny the sale. Furthermore, local enforcement would have been notified about the attempted purchase.
I don’t live under the illusion that bad people will stop doing evil things but I know that there are meaningful actions that we as a society can take to make it much more difficult for evil-doers to do harm.
I’m encouraged to see both Republicans and Democrats in the House come together to take action on these issues, and I urge my colleagues in the Senate to move quickly to pass this legislation. I remain committed to the oath that I took to uphold the Constitution and will continue to seek bipartisan solutions to keep our nation safe.
Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican, represents Wisconsin's 5th District and is a member of the Judiciary Committee.
You can read this piece online here.