IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Grassley is the wrong senator with the wrong message on guns

Iowa's Chuck Grassley's response to mass shootings is to add those with mental impairments to an FBI database. He also wrote a law to do the exact opposite.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks to members of the press, June 27, 2013.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks to members of the press, June 27, 2013.

On. Feb. 10, 2013, exactly five years ago this week, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) appeared on NPR and was asked about what steps policymakers could take to reduce gun violence.

"[T]he biggest problem that we have to deal with, and quite frankly I don't think any of us have an answer to the mental health issue," the Iowa Republican said at the time. "How do you get more people that have mental health problems that shouldn't have guns, and under present law can't get guns, but you got to get their name into the database as well."

This morning, Grassley spoke briefly to MSNBC in a Capitol Hill hallway, commenting on yesterday's mass shooting in a Florida high school, and echoing the sentiment he shared almost exactly five years ago:

"[We] have not done a very good job of making sure that people that have mental reasons for not being able to handle a gun, getting their name into the FBI files, and we need to concentrate on that."

The Iowan then walked away.

This is, to be sure, a complex issue, but let's take a moment to remember what Grassley did between February 2013 and February 2018 -- by focusing specifically on what he did in February 2017, when Grassley was the chief sponsor of a bill to make it easier for the mentally impaired to buy a gun.

Let's recap for those who may have forgotten the fight over this. When an American suffers from a severe mental illness, to the point that he or she receives disability benefits through the Social Security Administration, there are a variety of limits created to help protect that person and his or her interests. These folks cannot, for example, go to a bank to cash a check on their own.

There was also a federal policy in place to prevent that person from purchasing a gun. There was a mechanism in place for this reason: the Social Security Administration would report the names of those who receive disability benefits due to severe mental illness to the FBI's background-check system.

Last year, none other than Chuck Grassley sponsored legislation to block that reporting. It passed the Republican-led Congress exactly one year ago today, with the unanimous support of every GOP senator, along with four red-state Democrats and an independent.

When I've written about this in the past, I've heard from readers who've argued, persuasively, about the system's flaws. It's been very difficult, for example, for someone to have their names removed from the background-check system.

And while that's a fair point, and concerns about the flaws in the system have merit, Grassley's bill -- which Donald Trump signed soon after -- made no real effort at reform. It was more of a blunt object than a scalpel.

And so, we're left with a curious dynamic: Iowa's Chuck Grassley's response to mass shootings is to add those with mental impairments to the FBI database, despite the fact that Iowa's Chuck Grassley's made it easier for those with mental impairments to buy guns by keeping their names off the FBI database.