Sen. Coons: “What should drive us is wanting to improve the safety of our schools, our communities, and our families.”

Sen. Coons: “We should take up and vote on the bipartisan background check bill that the House sent us six months ago.”

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined NPR’s Morning Edition to discuss what Congress and the Trump Administration should do to address gun violence.

“I think there is a lot we could and should do on background checks, on taking weapons of war off the streets of the United States, in dealing with mental health, on improving the tools that communities and families have to deal with dangerous situations, but I am concerned that we will take very small steps relative to the very large problem we have as a country with gun-related violence,” said Senator Coons. 

Audio is available here.

Excerpts from the interview:

Sen. Coons on September 11: As we talk on September 11, it is important to remember the sacrifice of thousands of Americans. We’ve lost 2,300 in Afghanistan and 4,400 in Iraq and have spent nearly $6 trillion in combatting terrorism. Later today, we have a hearing on a bipartisan bill to improve our strategy. But today, let’s focus on guns.

Sen. Coons on whether it’s clear what President Trump wants: No. Exactly one of the challenges of legislating with our President is that he can make a public commitment on Tuesday and then reverse himself and reject exactly the same bipartisan compromise on Thursday. I am optimistic after several conversations that a bill that Senator Pat Toomey and I have written and introduced, the NICS Denial Notification Act, which requires that when a felon lies and tries to buy a gun in a gun store, lies on the background check form, there will be prompt notification to state police. It is a modest, reasonable initiative that would bring law enforcement in and give communities notification when someone who really shouldn’t have a gun is trying to get one. 

Sen. Coons on who he talks to when he heads to the White House to talk gun control: Well, my policy folks have talked to the head of leg affairs, I’ve actually heard from Ivanka, we’ve texted and spoken several times, and I’ve mostly spoken with Senators Toomey and Graham on the Republican Caucus and then Senators Murphy and Manchin and Blumenthal in my caucus. Over the last month, we’ve continually communicated to try and keep some forward movement on a whole package of ideas that we think are enactable. We should take up and vote on the bipartisan background check bill that the House sent us six months ago, but there are other things in addition to that that we could also do that I would support.

Sen. Coons on whether the practical possibilities seem small and narrow: Yes. I think there is a lot we could and should do on background checks, on taking weapons of war off the streets of the United States, in dealing with mental health, on improving the tools that communities and families have to deal with dangerous situations, but I am concerned that we will take very small steps relative to the very large problem we have as a country with gun-related violence. 

Sen. Coons on the mental health focus: We don’t do enough to provide support to individuals and families in crisis. It’s also not a direct link. I think by overemphasizing mental health, we’re further stigmatizing the 20 percent of adult Americans who have some mental health diagnosis. We need more research and we need more resources to make sure we’re caring for those who have mental health-related crises. But frankly, the wide availability of guns, and in particular, the ways in which we fail to enforce our existing laws and should strengthen our laws, such as background checks, to make it harder for those whom we all agree shouldn’t have guns, like convicted felons, to get access to them. 

Sen. Coons on Republicans’ political case for some kind of gun measure: I think the politics of this are clear, and that in the upcoming election the consequences in the country for the Republican Party if there is literally no movement, if there is nothing enacted or significant [are clear], but what should drive us is wanting to improve the safety of our schools, our communities, and our families.

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