Fix NICS Act of 2017 Aims to Ensure Accuracy of National Instant Criminal Background Check System

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

On November 15, 2017, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) – on behalf of a bipartisan group of Senators – introduced the “Fix NICS Act of 2017” to ensure federal and state authorities comply with existing law and accurately report relevant criminal history records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) used for the purchase of firearms, according to a press release on the Senator’s website.

Launched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1998, the NICS is used to instantly determine if a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms. The “Fix NICS Act of 2017” penalizes federal agencies who fail to properly report relevant records, incentivizes states to improve their overall reporting, and directs more federal funding to the accurate reporting of domestic violence records. Specifically, the bill:

  • Requires federal agencies and states to produce NICS implementation plans focused on uploading all information to the background check system showing that a person is prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms under current law – including measures to verify the accuracy of records.
  • Holds federal agencies accountable if they fail to upload relevant records to the background check system through public reporting and prohibiting bonus pay for political appointees.
  • Rewards states who comply with their NICS implementation plans through federal grant preferences and incentives, while increasing accountability through public reporting for those who do not comply with their plans.
  • Reauthorizes and improves important law enforcement programs to help state governments share relevant criminal record information with NICS.
  • Creates a Domestic Abuse and Violence Prevention Initiative to ensure that states have adequate resources and incentives to share all relevant information with NICS showing that a felon or domestic abuser is excluded from purchasing firearms under current law.
  • Provides important technical assistance to federal agencies and states who are working to comply with NICS record-sharing requirements.

The introduction of the bill comes in the wake of a mass shooting in a Texas church that left 26 people dead where the deceased suspect gunman passed a NICS background check required to purchase the rifle allegedly used in the shooting despite being court-martialed by the Air Force for assault on his spouse and their child, information that should have disqualified him from legally buying a gun under NICS rules.

However, the Air Force later acknowledged it did not relay Kelly’s court martial conviction for domestic assault to civilian law enforcement that could have prevented him from purchasing the firearms used in the shooting. The Air Force issued a statement saying that “information indicates that Kelley’s domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database.”

“For years agencies and states haven’t complied with the law, failing to upload these critical records without consequence,” Senator Cornyn said. “Just one record that’s not properly reported can lead to tragedy, as the country saw 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.”

Along with Senator Cornyn, the group of bipartisan Senators that introduced the “Fix NICS Act of 2017” include Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), along with Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). The complete text of the bill is at www.cornyn.senate.gov/sites/default/files/Fix%20NICS%20Act%20Bill%20Text.pdf.

More ESR News Blogs about the NICS

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