New Bill Would Strengthen FBI Firearms Background Check System

Richard Blumenthal
I don't trust that grin on his face...

A bipartisan group of senators has introduced a new bill designed to address the failures in the FBI’s gun background check system.

The Fix NICS Act would be implementing punishments for all the federal agencies that have failed to comply with the crime reporting requirements, including the ones prohibiting bonuses for the political appointees at the failing agencies. It would also reward the states that had properly reported records with the federal grant preferences and incentives. It would further require the attorney general to produce a semi-annual report on whether or not the federal agencies are complying with the reporting requirements.

The eight senators attached to the legislation — Richard Blumenthal , John Cornyn, Tim Scott, Chris Murphy, Dianne Feinstein, Orrin Hatch, Dean Heller, and Jeanne Shaheen—said that it is an important step in the direction of preventing further lapses in the gun background checks system like the ones that had allowed the Texas church shooter to obtain his guns.

“For years agencies and states haven’t complied with the law, failing to upload these critical records without consequence”, Cornyn had said in a statement. “Just one record that’s not properly reported can lead to tragedy, as the country saw last week in Sutherland Springs, Texas. This bill aims to help fix what’s become a nationwide, systemic problem so we can better prevent criminals and domestic abusers from obtaining firearms.”

The Texas church shooter was able to pass an FBI background check and went on purchasing the firearms in the years after he was convicted in a court-martial of assaulting his ex-wife and his stepson because the Air Force failed to submit his disqualifying criminal record to the FBI. “Initial information indicates that [Devin] Kelley’s domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database by the Holloman Air Force Base Office of Special Investigations”, Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokesperson, had said earlier this month.

The senators behind this bill said that ensuring the Interstate Identification Index (III), National Crime Information Center (NCIC), and National Instant Criminal Background Check System Index (NICS) include all the relevant records for the background check as it is necessary to keep the people prohibited from gun ownership and from purchasing firearms.

“These provisions will help enforce public safety protections that could mean the difference between life and death”, Blumenthal had said in a statement. “Non-reporting now puts people at lethal risk—riddling a system that should keep guns away from killers with gaping holes. The federal background check program is only as good as the information that is provided to it. Mass murderers in Sutherland Springs, Charleston, and Blacksburg were legally prohibited from accessing firearms, but gaps in NICS allowed each of them to walk out of a gun store with the weapons used to commit their crimes.”

The Congress has attempted to fix reporting problems within the gun background check system before. After it had been revealed that the Virginia Tech shooter had passed a background check despite having disqualifying mental health records which were never reported to the FBI, Congress passed the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007, which had caused the implemented grant incentives for states who fully comply with reporting requirements, a grant penalty for those that didn’t, and created an independent statutory obligation for federal agencies to report disqualifying criminal records to the system.