In the wake of last week's deadly church shooting in Texas and this week's shooting in Northern California, legislators have come together to find common ground. The one thing that everyone can agree on is that the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) has flaws. That was proven in a couple of mass shootings where the shooter legally obtained a firearm.
A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday introduced Senate Bill 2135, also known as the Fix NICS Act, which is designed to fix the reporting requirements for the NICS. This bill penalizes federal agencies who fail to report relevant criminal records to the FBI and creates an incentive for states to make sure their reporting is up-to-date by giving federal grant preferences to states who comply. The bill also directs more federal funding to make sure domestic violence records are accurately reported to the FBI.
“For years agencies and states haven’t complied with the law, failing to upload these critical records without consequence,” Sen. Cornyn said in a release. “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 bill's sponsors include John Cornyn (R-TX), 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 bill has seen significant support from both gun owners and gun control advocates.
Support From Gun Rights Groups
Both the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) support the bill.
“The National Rifle Association has long supported the inclusion of all legitimate records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). While federal law prohibited the Texas shooter from possessing a firearm, he was able to pass a background check because the Air Force failed to transfer his conviction record to the FBI," NRA's Executive Director Chris W. Cox told Townhall. "We applaud Sen. John Cornyn’s efforts to ensure that the records of prohibited individuals are entered into NICS, while providing a relief valve for those who are wrongly included in the system. The NRA will continue to support efforts to make the background check system instant, accurate and fair, while protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners."
The #NRA has fought for 20 years to put the records of those adjudicated mentally incompetent into NICS. Until the politicians demand that they are submitted, killers who are legally prohibited from owning firearms will walk into gun stores & pass every background check they take pic.twitter.com/UHiMe60JeU— NRA (@NRA) November 16, 2017
The NSSF also applauded Cornyn's bill.
"We commend Sen. Cornyn for his leadership to encourage state and federal agencies to enter all applicable records in the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)," Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the NSSF Lawrence G. Keane said. "This legislation will provide states with the necessary resources to promptly and efficiently provide disqualifying records to NICS on those who are prohibited under current law from possessing firearms. Federally licensed firearms retailers rely upon NICS to prevent the sale of firearms to prohibited persons. This legislation will fix NICS so that background checks are accurate and reliable."
Support From Gun Control Groups
Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action came out in support of the Cornyn bill.
“The Sutherland Springs, Texas, mass shooting was another deadly reminder that the criminal background check system is only as good as the records it contains. This bipartisan legislation is an important first step to improve the background check system, and keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and criminals," John Feinblatt, President of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement. "A majority of mass shooters in this country have histories of domestic violence, and we’re glad that Sens. Cornyn and Murphy are working in a bipartisan way to address gaps in the background check system that allow people with dangerous histories to obtain firearms.”
Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' gun control organization, Giffords, also supports the bill.
“The background check system is only as strong as the records it contains, so this bill is a step in the right direction. It’s an important signal to states and federal agencies that Congress means business when it comes to ensuring a strong, effective background check system," Peter Ambler, Executive Director of Giffords, said in a statement. "And it demonstrates that Congress can come together to legislate solutions to gun violence. Even in the aftermath of the worst shooting in American history, the gun lobby wanted to weaken gun safety laws and move us backward. This proposal strengthens our laws and moves us forward."
The National Network to End Domestic Violence and the National Fraternal Order of Police took to Twitter to show support for the bill.
Gun laws are designed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Thousands of gun sales are blocked because the buyer failed a check run by NICS. Recent events show us that Federal agencies and State governments too often fail to upload info to NICS allowing illegal sale of guns https://t.co/KNj9dOuYNm— National FOP (@GLFOP) November 16, 2017
The Bill's Opposition
Gun Owners of America (GOA), on the other hand, oppose the bill. The group's Chairman, Tim Macy, penned an open letterto Sen. Mitch McConnell, which said helping tweak the NICS would be giving gun control advocates a win.
"GOA opposes the background check system because prior restraints should not be placed on law-abiding gun owners who wish to exercise their Second Amendment-protected rights," GOA's Executive Director Erich Pratt told Townhall. "We also oppose putting more names and more information into NICS because the more information that gets added the more data that can be used to deny law-abiding gun owners."
Why Everyone Should Get Behind 'Fix NICS'
Gun owners and gun control advocates almost never agree on proposed gun laws — and for good reason. This is one of the areas where everyone can and should agree.
When we think of many of the most recent mass shootings, what comes to mind? The number of shooters who legally obtained firearms. The Las Vegas shooter. The Texas church shooter. The Northern California shooter. They all went through the legal channels to purchase a firearm. They all went through a background check and passed.
For years, groups like the NRA have said that the NICS has holes in it. In fact, 38 states submit less than 80 percent of their felony convictions. That means that 7 MILLION convictions are being withheld from our current NICS system.
The reality is simple: law-abiding gun owners have to go through background checks in order to obtain a firearm. We follow the law. We will do everything through the legal channels. If potential mass shooters are going to use these legal channels, we have a duty — and an obligation — to make sure we're protecting every single man, woman and child out there. States shouldn't have the option of not sending this information to the FBI.
Gun owners should want every single state to send their criminal conviction information to the NICS to make sure these criminals aren't abusing the law to obtain guns.
Gun control advocates, on the other hand, should want these holes in the system closed, because it's "common sense gun laws," as they often say.