With votes scheduled this week on gun control efforts, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, introduced a bill focusing on stronger penalties for those who steal weapons from federal firearms licensees as well as greater information sharing to prevent mass violence.
Collins introduced the Mass Violence Prevention Act on Monday, Feb. 25.
The bill would increase the maximum punishment for burglary or robbery of a federal firearms licensee to 20 years, which is double the current standard.
For a burglary, the minimum prison sentence would be three years. Robbery would carry a minimum five-year prison sentence.
The centerpiece of the bill is the “mass violence prevention center,” which would have a director appointed by the FBI director. According to the bill, the center’s purpose is to be the “primary organization in the United States government for analyzing and integrating all intelligence possessed or acquired by the United States government pertaining to threats of mass violence.”
Federal, state and local law enforcement would have access.
“Many times I think a lot of us have small pieces of the puzzle, and this gives us an avenue to share those pieces … so that we all get a clear picture of who may be a threat to gun violence,” Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish said.
In an interview with The Times of Gainesville on Tuesday, Collins referenced the Aurora, Illinois, shooting involving Gary Martin, who killed five co-workers and wounded five police officers Feb. 15.
“When they discovered he shouldn’t have (a firearm) is when they actually had to do a concealed carry issue,” Collins said of Martin.
According to state records, Martin applied for a firearm owner’s identification card on Jan. 17, 2014. He provided his name and birth date for a background check, and falsely answered “no” when asked if he had ever been convicted of a felony.
Martin applied for a concealed carry license on March 16, 2014, and submitted his fingerprints to expedite the application process. Those prints produced an FBI record that ultimately led state police to Martin’s felony conviction in Mississippi.
In a statement, the Illinois State Police said it revoked Martin’s license on April 17, 2014, and sent a letter notifying him that he could no longer possess a gun. The Aurora Police Department also should have been informed of Martin’s revocation through a statewide police database in accordance with agency policy, the statement said.
“Information was out there, but it wasn’t being followed up on. This would give a national center, which this information could be put together,” Collins said of the bill.
Collins said the center would be an ongoing, permanent group capable of collecting and disseminating information.
The final section of the bill concerns $10 million appropriated for fiscal years 2020-24 for at least 50 assistant United States attorneys in various districts.
Any attorney appointed under that section would focus their work on Project Safe Neighborhoods, which concerns violent crime reduction and focuses on gangs, drug trafficking and other repeat offenders.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia declined to comment.
Other measures under consideration include HR 8, which would expand required background checks to all firearm sales, aimed at covering sales at gun shows, online or in other private settings. The second bill, HR 1112, would extend the time firearms dealers must wait for a response from the background check system before making a sale, among other provisions.
Rep. Mike Thompson, who introduced the background check bill, said a bipartisan vote on the bill could prompt Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to consider it on the floor or risk political fallout.
“It’s going to help Democrats in the Senate gain more seats,” the California Democrat said of the possibility the bill stalls in the Senate. “We already know it works here. All 40 (House) seats that were flipped, gun violence prevention was a concern of those voters.”
Democrats repeatedly underscored that popularity during the markup. Chairman Jerrold Nadler cited a study that found one in five gun owners had acquired their most recent gun without a background check, meaning, “we do not know if they were felons, fugitives, or domestic abusers” or if a court had “determined that they were seriously mentally ill,” he said.
“Citizens across the country have been organizing and demanding action, and there is now overwhelming public support for universal background checks,” Nadler said.
The Pew Research Center found in October that 91 percent of Democrats and 79 percent of Republicans favor background checks for private gun sales and sales at gun shows.
“The biggest difference between HR 8, HR 1112 and my bill, is mine actually works. Theirs is nothing but a fraud that’s being perpetrated upon victims of mass violence and the fear that people have of gun violence,” Collins said.
Collins said the items at issue in the other legislation up for vote are already criminalized, and the Georgia congressman said he feels there needs to be greater enforcement.
With the vote on HR 8 and HR 1112, Collins said his goal would be to have it defeated.
“The president has already issued a statement of administrative policy saying that if by chance it actually came to his desk that he would veto it,” Collins said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.