Near the conclusion of Sunday’s presidential debate, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton said that she supports the Second Amendment but that she wants expanded background checks in place and to close the so-called “Internet loophole” and “gun-show loophole.”
But something that no political candidate has addressed during this raucous campaign season is the fact that NICS, the federal background check system that is currently in place, and has been for years, is kind of a mess.
Guns.com reports that, despite six years of lobby efforts and successful legislation in 16 states, the gun industry’s campaign to “Fix NICS”—the National Instant Criminal Background Check System—it continues to fail, according to a federal audit.
“We have made a concerted effort to make sure to do everything that we could possible through legislation,” said Jake McGuigan, senior director of government relations for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, in the story. “We’ve passed NICS bills in 16 states over the past six year hoping they would comply. Based on this report, we’re not seeing that.”
The problem is there are several states that use their own background check systems, rather than the federal system, and who have been dubbed “negligent reporters,” meaning they don’t update the federal NICS system with mental-health records, among other documentation, which is necessary to deny individuals from purchasing guns within the background-check system. If the individual states don’t tell the FBI who should not be permitted to purchase firearms, the system doesn’t tend to work very well on a national level.
The Fix NICS campaign is something of an odd duck, in that it’s spearheaded by the NSSF, the gun industry’s leading trade organization, and draws support from unlikely allies, like Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action, and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, all prominent gun-control groups tied to billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as the story points out.
Despite all this, an internal audit, released last week, of how the Justice Department handles NICS denials shows that those same states still routinely fail to follow the law.
Of the 631 transaction examined by the federal auditors across the 13 states operating their own systems, they found that for all but one sale the states “did not fully update the NICS database or inform the FBI of the transaction’s outcome.”
“These incomplete records pose a risk that future firearms may be transferred to prohibited persons because future checks might not identify the information uncovered in prior checks, or do so in a timely fashion,” the audit says. “Similarly, by not working to ensure that NICS is appropriately updated, the FBI may be preventing itself from properly evaluating and reporting accurate NICS transaction data, and limiting the abilities of stakeholders to make informed operation and budgetary decisions.”
How big of a problem is this? Guns.com notes that states processed 109 million of the 205.5 million background checks completed between November 1998 and December 2014, according to the audit.
“A lot of these states, we want to transition them to use the NICS system,” McGuigan said in the story. “A lot of theses states that are running their own systems are essentially wasting money. It’s a little bit scary to see a lot of the disconnect between the courts, state police, and various organizations in these states.”
Major Scott Price, director of the Bureau of Records and Identification for the Pennsylvania State Police, said in the story that, for his state, it’s a technology issue. Pennsylvania uses it’s own system called the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS), which processed more than 500,000 checks in the first and second quarter of 2016. It has denied about 1 percent of those transactions, the story says.
“We know it’s a public safety issue and we want to have the information in NICS,” Price said in the story. “It just takes some serious technological adaptation to make it happen.”
Still, Price says that the state uses PICS because it can access more criminal records than NICS.
“They may be able to take care of doing background checks in-state,” McGuigan said. “But if someone goes to another state, those records are not in the system. They are almost not looking at it on the higher level.”
Despite using the PICS system, the Fix NICS campaign ranked Pennsylvania number one in 2015 for uploading more than 730,000 mental health records into the NICS system, about 68 percent more entries than the next closest state, New Jersey.
In contrast, the campaign reports that at least seven states during the same time period updated NICS with fewer than 110 mental health records, including Rhode Island, Vermont, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Montana, New Hampshire, and Alaska.