This was hinted at last week but, but now it’s official: Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), along with Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dean Heller (R-NV), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Tim Scott (R-SC), have unveiled S. 2135, or the “Fix NICS Act,” designed to ensure that the criminal history of a prospective gun buyer is accurately reported by federal and state authorities to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
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Introduced in the wake of the Sutherland Springs, Texas church shooting, in which the suspect—an Air Force veteran—was able to buy four firearms despite a domestic assault conviction which was never reported by the service to the NICS, the bill penalizes agencies that fail to properly report relevant records and “incentivizes” states to improve reporting. It also calls for more federal funding to help guarantee domestic violence records are accurately reported.
“For years agencies and states haven’t complied with the law, failing to upload these critical records without consequence,” Sen. Cornyn said. “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.”
“This deal will strengthen the background check system and save lives. Our bill marks an important milestone that shows real compromise can be made on the issue of guns. I’m grateful that Senator Cornyn was such a strong partner and straightforward negotiator,” Sen. Murphy added. “It’s no secret that I believe much more needs to be done. But this bill will make sure that thousands of dangerous people are prevented from buying guns. It represents the strongest update to the background checks system in a decade, and provides the foundation for more compromise in the future.”
Meanwhile, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) has signaled its support for the 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),” said Lawrence G. Keane, Senior VP and General Counsel for the NSSF. “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.”
Here’s a breakdown of the key points of the “Fix NICS Act,” via Sen. Cornyn’s press release:
- 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 Fix NICS Act has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.