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New Gun Control Provisions Passed In Spending Bill


We're going to start the program with a story that dominated the news this weekend, and that's the renewed focus on American gun laws. Hundreds of thousands of people marched across the country in support of tighter gun restrictions. But what you might not have heard is that Congress and the president passed a couple of new rules about guns in the spending bill that was signed into law on Friday. One is meant to close a loophole that allowed the mass shooter in Sutherland Springs, Texas last year to pass a background check. The other frees the Centers for Disease Control to study gun violence. We wanted to know more about all of this, so we called up Congressman Ryan Costello. He's a Republican from Pennsylvania.

Congressman Costello, welcome back to the program.

RYAN COSTELLO: Great to be with you.

MCCAMMON: One of the new provisions in the spending bill is something that you've supported in the past. It's called FixNICS. That's the National Instant Criminal Background Check system run by the FBI. How does this law work to strengthen background checks?

COSTELLO: Because the background check system that we have right now is incomplete and sometimes inaccurate. Oftentimes, federal agencies or local law enforcement agencies do not upload that data. That was the case in Texas with the church shooting. And we've also found that states, really, are not on the hook for providing any sort of verification whether or not they are in compliance. And so FixNICS is intended to require public reporting and verification from various agencies to confirm that they are uploading the data because our background check system is only effective when we have accurate and comprehensive data submitted into it.

MCCAMMON: Republicans have been hesitant to pass any sort of gun control measures and FixNICS isn't a new idea. Why did this finally pass now?

COSTELLO: Because previously it was - listen. This is common sense. Everybody - virtually everyone supports this bill. It was previously coupled with concealed-carry reciprocity, which stands for the proposition that if you are in a state where you need to go through - let's just call it very reduced permitting in order to carry a concealed weapon or perhaps no permitting at all, then you could go into another state, and that other state would have to honor, by reciprocity, your home state. Democrats objected to that. Some Republicans such as myself voted against that as well. And so, as a consequence of FixNICS being coupled with concealed carry, that was not a bill that had the kind of broad bipartisan support that could make its way forward into the omnibus bill. However, the FixNICS component to that was something that the great majority of all legislators, Republican and Democrat, do support.

MCCAMMON: Also in this bill is language allowing the Centers for Disease Control to conduct research on gun violence, something that hadn't been happening under current law previously. Do you support that change?

COSTELLO: I do. I also support legislation that would clarify that as well in addition to this. Now, some gun-safety advocates will say that this change does not really do all that much. All it does is say that the CDC can, if it would like to, engage in such research, which is an improvement over the debate over whether that was permitted or not. There was some question or confusion over that. I actually think the CDC should move forward with research in this area. When you look at the role of technology and what are used or immersed on a day-to-day basis with - and social media, YouTube videos and just the acceleration of society. I think it is very important. But nevertheless, the omnibus bill clarifies that the Dickey Amendment does not prohibit the CDC from engaging in such research.

MCCAMMON: It doesn't fund that research though. Should Congress pass funding for research on gun violence by the CDC?

COSTELLO: I believe that it should. Yes. It didn't in this bill. The CDC obviously could go ahead and allocate research to that funding, but that, even, can be a little bit tricky. That can really be up to a determination by each respective administration. I think there should be money for that. Yes.

MCCAMMON: There were...

COSTELLO: I would...

MCCAMMON: ...Of course...

COSTELLO: ...I would probably be - whether or not I'm in the minority or majority on that is an open question.

MCCAMMON: There were, of course, massive demonstrations yesterday calling for stricter gun laws. Gun control advocates say the new provisions in the spending bill aren't enough. Are there other gun restrictions you and others in your party might support?

COSTELLO: Well, let me say what I support and what I think everyone can agree to and that is there is a bill, the Thompson-King bill, in the House that's similar to the Toomey-Manchin Bill in the Senate, and specifically, when we're talking about background checks, purchasing a gun over the Internet in a catalog or at a gun show should require a background check. At present, there is no federal law that requires that. That is a state-by-state law.

I think that in this day and age, when my wife - and I love her - buys what she buys on Amazon - you know, the way folks shop on a day-to-day basis, the Internet is really such an open-ended way to circumvent background checks, and that's one law that I do think should come from the federal government, and that's universal background checks.

MCCAMMON: Quickly, Congressman, I have to let you go in just a moment, but before I do, I need to ask you - there are reports you won't seek re-election this year. Is that the case?

COSTELLO: So I will be making an announcement on that a little bit later this evening or early tomorrow morning. All right. But certainly, I appreciate you asking the question.

MCCAMMON: All right. Thank you. That's Representative Ryan Costello, Republican from Pennsylvania. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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