To say the NICS system is screwed up is an overstatement. The system itself is working exactly as designed. Gun dealers can do an instant background check that is minimally annoying to gun buyers. At least, that’s been my experience, though others report issues delaying their purchases for whatever reason. Overall, though, the system works because it keeps people listed in the system from purchasing guns from licensed dealers.
The problem is getting all the data input.
Congress is addressing the situation now–yes, that phrase fills me with dread, even when I actually agree with what they’re doing. To that end, House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who offered his thoughts on national reciprocity yesterday, had this to say on the bill before the House.
Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following remarks during the House Judiciary Committee’s markup of the Fix NICS Act of 2017 (H.R. 4477).
Chairman Goodlatte: In order to purchase a firearm from a federal firearms dealer in the United States, an individual must undergo a National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) check, administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). A NICS check includes a query of three databases maintained by the FBI. If a NICS check identifies a person as falling within a prohibited category, the FBI advises the firearms dealer that the transfer is “denied.”
Our NICS system is only as good as the information that resides within it. Unfortunately, records in NICS for prohibited individuals are incomplete.
In 2007, we tragically learned what can happen when all of the relevant information is not properly uploaded into NICS. On April 16, 2007, on the campus of Virginia Tech, a student shot and murdered 32 people and wounded 17 others in two separate attacks. Prior to these horrific events, the shooter had been adjudicated mentally ill and ordered to attend treatment. This adjudication should have barred him from purchasing the firearms used in the attacks. However, the state did not report Cho’s legal status to NICS.
In response, Congress passed and the President signed the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007 (NIAA). The NIAA sought to address the gaps in information available to NICS about such prohibiting mental health adjudications and commitments and other prohibiting backgrounds. Filling these information gaps was intended to better enable the system to operate as intended, to keep guns out of the hands of persons prohibited by federal or state law from receiving or possessing firearms.
A decade later, all of the relevant prohibiting information is still not available in the NICS system. Earlier this month, a mass shooting occurred at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The gunman murdered 26 and injured 20 others. The perpetrator was prohibited by law from purchasing or possessing firearms and ammunition due to a domestic violence conviction. Unlike the Virginia Tech shooting, the shooter in this instance had been convicted before a federal tribunal. He was found guilty during a court-martial while in the United States Air Force. However, the Air Force failed to record the conviction in the FBI NCIC database.
The Fix NICS Act before us today will plug the holes that allow these convictions to go unreported in NICS. Among other things, the bill requires all federal agencies to certify twice per year that they are uploading criminal records information to NICS and requires them to establish an implementation plan to ensure maximum coordination and reporting of records. The bill holds federal agencies accountable for failing to upload records by requiring the Attorney General to publish on the Department of Justice website and report to Congress the status of any agency that has failed to submit the required certification or failed to comply with its implementation plan. Finally, the bill reauthorizes the NICS Act Record Improvement Program (NARIP) and National Criminal History Improvement Program (NCHIP).
I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.
The fact is, Congress will do something following Sutherland Springs. Especially because it was on the heels of Las Vegas if for no other reason. They almost feel required to do something.
However, in this case, what they’re addressing is something that shouldn’t have any impact on the average gun buyer. The only people who should be affected will be people who are already prohibited. Most of those folks already know it and haven’t bothered to try and buy guns in the first place. Some may have, but it’s also possible they have broken other laws and been listed due to those. But we know of at least one case where none of that was true, and the results were tragic.
That’s not to say this will happen again, mind you, but let’s at least fix the system before we give gun grabbers all they need to justify more invasive regulations.