The long wait for action from Congress on gun control legislation may be over. A new bipartisan bill would improve the gun background check system — and it actually has a chance of passing. After 2017 saw a number of horrific mass shootings, Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and John Cornyn (R-TX) and their partners on Thursday announced an incremental step toward keeping guns out of the hands of would-be shooters.
The FIX NICS Act, as the bill is called, focuses on improving federal law that's already out there, namely the background check system and laws that prohibit felons and domestic abusers from buying weapons. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is the tool that should stop these kinds of sales, but it only works when the database has all the correct information in it. The bill would work to achieve that by improving the reporting from both states and the federal government.
Sen. Murphy's been among the most vocal advocates for tougher gun control laws. In a statement provided to Bustle, he highlights the bipartisan nature of the bill, which will be key to passing it in a Republican-controlled Congress.
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.
Senate Bill 2135 essentially closes the loophole that allowed the gunman in the Sutherland Springs, Texas church shooting to buy a gun even after he was convicted of domestic abuse in an Air Force court-martial. The Air Force never reported his conviction to NICS, which reportedly is an all-too-common thing. Many who have been convicted of domestic violence do not get reported to the national database, and these are the same people who are especially likely to carry out further violence. It's not just the military, either: Many states and other federal agencies also have poor or non-existent reporting mechanisms in place.
Gun control groups like Everytown for Gun Safety are supportive of the bill, although they see it as a necessary first step of many. John Feinblatt, president of Everytown, says in a statement provided to Bustle that the "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." He adds, "We’re glad that Sens. Cornyn and Murphy are working in a bipartisan way to address gaps in the background check system."
Politico first reported the deal on Wednesday, after Sen. Murphy hinted at it on Twitter, writing, "Big news: super close to a bipartisan breakthrough on gun legislation. Stay tuned." Meanwhile, Cornyn tweeted several times about problems with NICS. "We’re not doing enough to patch up the NICS background check system," Cornyn tweeted, along with a link to the conservative political blog Hot Air that criticized the current state of the system. Cornyn echoes some of those arguments in a statement provided to Bustle:
"For years agencies and states haven’t complied with the law, failing to upload these critical records without consequence. 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."
Cornyn's citing conservative thinkers to support his stance is another sign that the bipartisan bill has a chance of passage. As the Hot Air blog post reads, "I realize that there tends to be a bit of a knee-jerk reaction among some of my Second Amendment loving friends at the idea of 'strengthening' anything when it comes to what the gun grabbing lobby wants." But the author notes that nothing is being expanded: "We already have background checks and a system to make them fast and allegedly reliable. All we’re discussing is making the mechanics of it work properly."
Both Hot Air and Cornyn also link to pieces on Lawrence Keane, the senior vice president and general counsel of the nonprofit National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), a firearms industry trade organization. This group has been making the case for better reporting mechanisms since 2013. Writing in The Hill, Keane notes that in 2012, records disqualifying someone from buying a gun totaled just 1.7 million. Some 19 states had made fewer than 100 records available, while 12 states had submitted fewer than 10 records. Keane called on Congress to keep this from happening.
NSSF is working with Congress to identify measures to incentivize states to fully participate in submitting all disqualifying records to the FBI. Just as states that failed to lower the threshold for drunk driving risked losing federal highway funds, states that fail to reform their laws to facilitate the submission of disqualifying records to NICS should be ineligible for Department of Justice grant funds. Congress should also fully fund the NICS Improvement Act of 2007 to assist the states to have the necessary resources to promptly and efficiently provide records to NICS.
Already, NSSF has shown that this can work. The firearm trade group says it's helped increase the number of disqualifying records by 170 percent, to nearly 4.5 million. And Congress looks ready to take further action next. Cornyn and Murphy were joined by Sens. Tim Scott (R-SC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). With that kind of bipartisan cooperation, the FIX NICS Act may yet become law.