Government Spending Bill Includes Fix NICS Act to Strengthen National Instant Criminal Background Check System

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

In March 2018, United States President Donald Trump signed a $1.3 trillion spending bill that includes the “Fix NICS Act” which will strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to ensure convicted felons and domestic abusers cannot illegally purchase a firearm, according to a briefing statement from the White House.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) – who introduced the legislation – said in a statement after the Senate passed the “Fix NICS Act” as a part of the government funding bill: “After the tragedy in Sutherland Springs, I vowed to that community to do what I could so no family, school, or congregation would have to go through that again. While it’s not the only solution, I’m confident this bill will save lives.”

As reported by ESR News in November 2017, the introduction of the bill followed a shooting in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas that left 27 people dead including the gunman who used a rifle bought after passing a NICS background check despite being court-martialed by the Air Force for assault on his spouse and child, which should have disqualified him under NICS rules. Specifically, the “Fix NICS Act”:

  • 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.

Mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 and launched by the FBI on November 30, 1998, the NICS is used by Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms. The NICS is a computerized background check system that checks available records on persons who may be disqualified from receiving firearms.

A delay in response from the NICS background check “indicates the subject of the background check has been matched with either a state or federal potentially prohibiting record containing a similar name and/or similar descriptive features (name, sex, race, date of birth, state of residence, social security number, height, weight, or place of birth),” according to the FBI web page about the NICS.

More ESR News Blogs about the NICS

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