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By Kathryn B. Palmer November 1, 2018

Hawley claim stretches McCaskill record on gun background checks

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley told Missouri residents on live television that U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill voted against the inclusion of mental health records in gun background checks.

"The (national background check system) doesn’t work that well because there’s a giant loophole right in the middle of it. It doesn’t include mental health records," Hawley said during the second Senate debate. "Congress could have done this, they’ve had the chance to do it, but they haven’t."

"Sen. McCaskill voted against including health records in the background check system. I think that was wrong," Hawley said. "I know it was along the party line, but I think that was wrong."

We’ve fact-checked other politicians’ statements on gun control legislation in the past, including some specifically related to firearm access for people with a history of mental illness.

McCaskill has received an "F" rating from the National Rifle Association and taken $156,949 from gun control political action committees this election cycle, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

McCaskill maintained during the debate that she supports and has voted for universal background checks.

So has she or hasn’t she voted against including mental health records as part of the gun-purchasing background check process?

What McCaskill hasn’t voted for

Hawley’s evidence for McCaskill’s disapproval of including mental health records in the background check system was her vote against a 2016 amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2016.

Sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the proposal was one of four that came in the wake of a mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub, where a gunman killed 49 people.

Grassley’s 2016 amendment would have incentivized states to submit relevant mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

"The Democrats put the kibosh on a bill that, on its face, would have strengthened (to some degree) populating NICS database with names of persons ineligible to purchase guns on account of a mental illness disqualifier," said Jacob James, a professor of constitutional law and director of the Center for Research in Crime and Justice at New York University, in an email.

James said that Grassley’s amendment likely didn’t pass muster with Democrats like McCaskill "because they favored a stronger gun control bill, which had no chance of passage."

Indeed, some of the leading opponents of the amendment said at the time that it did not go far enough in keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and suspected terrorists.

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"It was dangerous and reckless," said Jonas Oransky, legal director for Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control  organization that rallied against the amendment. Oransky called it a decoy to meaningful gun control legislation that would have "invalidated hundreds of thousands of existing mental health records already in the background check system."

Representatives from gun rights advocacy groups, including the National Rifle Association, which backed Grassley’s amendment, did not immediately respond to PolitiFact’s request for comment.

The 2016 vote was similar to a failed 2013 measure co-sponsored by Grassley and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. McCaskill voted against that one, too.

What McCaskill has voted for

McCaskill voted in favor of an amendment to the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., sponsored the piece, which would have expanded background checks to gun shows and internet sales, and allotted grants "to improve the automation and transmittal of mental health records and criminal history dispositions."

It also would have created a commission of experts charged with studying mass violence, including the role of mental health issues.

The Manchin-Toomey amendment died in a Senate filibuster.

In 2016, as McCaskill voted no on the Grassley amendment, she voted yes on another amendment co-sponsored by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., known as the Fix Gun Checks Act of 2016. Its purpose was to ensure that "all individuals who should be prohibited from buying a firearm are listed in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and require a background check for every firearm sale."

Though it, too, failed to pass, the amendment also included guidelines on how to define and include relevant mental health records in the national background check system.

"Sen. McCaskill has consistently and repeatedly supported legislation to improve the federal background check system," said Max Samis, press secretary for gun control Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence.*

Samis along with McCaskill’s campaign noted McCaskill’s co-sponsorship of a bill called the Fix NICS ACT of 2017, which aims to incentivize states to submit relevant records to the nationwide criminal background check system.

After a gunman murdered 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, last February, McCaskill joined other members of Congress in saying that proposal was a start, she saw a need for gun legislation that went further.

"It’s an important little step, but surely we can do more than the teeniest, tiniest steps right now," McCaskill told Politico earlier this year.

Our ruling

Hawley said McCaskill "voted against including (mental) health records in the background check system."

Hawley is isolating one vote from a GOP proposal while ignoring McCaskill’s full record in the Senate. McCaskill clearly has supported efforts to tighten restrictions for who can purchase a firearm, including measures that clearly addressed the inclusion of mental health records in the gun background check system and more aggressive overall provisions for regulating gun sales.

Hawley’s claim rates Mostly False.

Our Sources

Carney, Jordain. "Senate rejects gun control background check measures." The Hill. June 20, 2016.

Hodges, Heath. "Weapon-involved Violence and Mental Illness: An Empirical Examination of the Policy Assumptions for Firearm and Other Dangerous Weapon Prohibitions." PhD dissertation: University of Nebraska at Lincoln, 2017.

Josh Hawley, Missouri Senate debate between Josh Hawley and U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill. Live televised broadcast. Public Broadcasting Station News Hour. Oct. 18, 2018.

Kertscher, Tom. "In the wake of Middleton mass shooting, what we know about guns from five recent fact checks," PolitiFact. Sep. 19, 2018.

Email interview with Eric Mee, Claire McCaskill for Missouri press secretary. Oct. 19, 2018.

Email interview with Kelli Ford, Hawley for Senate press secretary. Oct. 19, 2018.

Email interview with James Jacobs, Warren E. Burger Professor of Constitutional Law and the Courts at New York University School of Law and Director of Center for Research in Crime and Justice. Oct. 22, 2018.

Email interview with Cassidy Geoghegan, Everytown for Gun Safety deputy press secretary. Oct. 23, 2018.

Email interview with Max Samis, Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence press secretary. Oct. 23, 2018.

Manchin-Toomey amendment summary, accessed Oct. 22, 2018.

Moorhead, Molly. "A summary of the Manchin-Toomey gun proposal." PolitiFact, April 30, 2013.

National Rifle Association- Institute for Legislative Action. "NRA endorses Hawley for U.S. Senate in Missouri." Media release. Sep. 25, 2018.

"Search: Ranking of senators receiving money from gun control PACS." OpenSecrets.org via Center for Responsive Politics. Accessed Oct. 22, 2018.

Phone interview with Jonas Oransky, Everytown for Gun Safety legal director. Oct. 23, 2018.

Roll call vote summary, U.S. Senate amendment 4751 to HR 2578 (Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016). 114th Congress. June 20, 2016.

Roll call vote summary, U.S. Senate amendment 4750 to HR 2578 (Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016). 114th Congress. June 20, 2016.

Roll call vote summary. U.S. Senate amendment 725 to Senate bill 649 (Safe Communities and Schools Act of 2013). 113th Congress. April 17, 2013.

Roll call vote summary. U.S. Senate amendment 715 to Senate bill 649 (Safe Communities and Schools Act of 2013). 113th Congress. April 17, 2013.

Schor, Elana. "Congress clashes over piecemeal gun measure." Politico. Feb. 27, 2018.

Text of U.S. Senate amendment 4751 to HR 2578 (Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016). 114th Congress. Failed June 20, 2016.

Text of U.S. Senate amendment 4750 to HR 2578 (Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016). 114th Congress. Failed June 20, 2016.

Text of U.S. Senate amendment 725 to Senate bill 649 (Safe Communities and Schools Act of 2013). 113th Congress. Failed April 17, 2013.

Text of U.S. Senate amendment 715 to Senate bill 649 (Safe Communities and Schools Act of 2013). 113th Congress. Failed April 17, 2013.

Text of U.S. Senate bill 2135. 115th Congress. Introduced Nov. 15, 2017.

Tobias, Manuela. "Could Ted Cruz’s measure have prevented the Texas church shooting? Not likely." PolitiFact. Nov. 10, 2017.

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Hawley claim stretches McCaskill record on gun background checks

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