Here’s Hoping My 60 Minutes of Fame is Over

June 13th, 2007



No gun bill is perfect and that certainly is the case with H.R. 2640, the McCarthy-Dingell-Boucher compromise. Their bill, to improve the background check system (called NICS) used to approve or deny gun buyers, is the product of a deal struck with the NRA. Trust me when I say that the NRA has never, ever made any piece of legislation better. But the fact is that almost nothing having to do with guns can get through Congress without their approval these days.

The origins of this bill came from a report called Broken Record that I co-wrote in 2002 with my former colleague Ed Hill about the state of the background check system. We found that NICS, the system used to check the criminal histories of prospective gun buyers, was frightfully flawed. Only 57% of felony records were automated. Less than 1% of those deemed mentally incompetent by a court of law were in the system. And less than 30% of domestic violence records were online. In other words, stopping a prohibited buyer from getting a gun was a matter of happenstance.

Several months after writing the report, an insane man erroneously passed a background check, bought a gun, walked into a church on Long Island and killed a priest. And several months after the killing at Our Lady of Peace church, 60 Minute called. I remember going up to New York to tape a segment with Steve Kroft. The show aired in October 2002, and it featured my report. My friends threw a dinner party for the occasion, and we watched the show together. Before dinner, while watching a football game on TV, my face appeared on an ad for that night’s show with the ubiquitous tick, tick, tick of the clock. I’ll be honest, it was a bit of a thrill.

Now it’s 2007. Several months ago, a madman erroneously passed a background check and bought a gun. He killed 31 people at Virginia Tech University. And 60 Minutes called again. I had another interview with Steve Kroft. They featured my old report. They updated the segment. Once again, I was the feature player on the segment. On the Sunday the show aired there was no dinner party. I told my parents that I was going to be on, and I told my wife. We debated whether to even watch with my wife insisting yes, and I saying no. She won, as usual. The segment ran. I did “great.” The phone rang off the hook. We didn’t answer it.

The rule about the gun issue is that when you make it on TV, it’s because somebody died. In this case, the deaths seemed a little too big and too close to shake.

Now there is a bill. Basically, it’s the bill I helped to write 5 years ago. Similar to the one that passed the House but was blocked by a lone objector in the Senate. Similar to the ones the following year when the momentum behind just petered out. Today, I am being called by Hill offices and interest groups about whether they should support this compromise bill. As I said, it has its good parts and it has its NRA parts. But I am urging everyone to support it. I hope it passes.

On balance, it’s a good bill. And its passage will hopefully decrease the odds that I will ever be a guest again on 60 Minutes.