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S. 2135: Fix NICS Act of 2017

After the Texas church massacre this month, a bipartisan gun control bill was introduced by a Texas senator — who’s a Republican. Even the NRA has endorsed it. Could this one gun control bill pass?

Context

The mass shooter who killed killed 26 people at a Texas church on November 5 should have been legally prevented from obtaining the rifle he used, due to a 2012 domestic assault conviction for cracking his toddler stepson’s skull.

But the Air Force, where the perpetrator had previously served, failed to enter the conviction into the federal database which is supposed to prevent those convicted of domestic violence from obtaining weapons.

The reason for the conviction’s non-entry is currently the subject of an internal Air Force review, although human error appears the most likely explanation.

What the bill does

The FIX NICS Act aims to fix current gaps in the current federal background check database. The bill’s title refers to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), was launched in 1998.

The bill would:

  • Establish a new “Domestic Abuse and Violence Prevention Initiative” in order to better prevent those convicted of those crimes from obtaining weapons.
  • Publicly report any federal agencies that fail to upload relevant information to the system, and withhold certain pay from political appointees who neglect to upload the info.
  • Establish new measures to verify the accuracy of existing records already uploaded into the system.

More than 1.3 million weapons purchases have already been denied due to the background check program, but bill supporters note that even a single person who should have been denied but wasn’t is one too many.

What supporters say

Supporters argue the legislation fixes a much-needed loophole in the law, which might have even prevented this month’s Texas massacre had it previously been closed.

“For years agencies and states haven’t complied with the law, failing to upload these critical records without consequence,” lead sponsor Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said in a press 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,” Cornyn continued, “so we can better prevent criminals and domestic abusers from obtaining firearms.”

What the NRA says

Even the National Rifle Association (NRA), the manufacturing trade association that represents gun makers and which has helped prevent essentially every federal gun control push this decade, has lent its support to the measure.

“The NRA has long supported the inclusion of all legitimate records in the [NICS],” NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action Executive Director Chris Cox said in a statement.

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,” Cox continued. “We applaud [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.”

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted a bipartisan mix of seven cosponsors: four Democrats and three Republicans. Without the NRA opposing it, the biggest roadblock has seemingly been removed, rendering this bill’s odds of passage unusually high for what is ostensibly a gun control bill.

Labelled S. 2135 in the Senate, the bill was introduced on November 15 and awaits a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Texas’s other senator Ted Cruz has not signed on. Cruz has been one of the Senate’s most adamant defenders of Second Amendment rights — not that Cornyn has generally been considered weak on that issue.

PolitiFact rated Cruz’s claim that a previous amendment he introduced in 2013 would have prevented the massacre as mostly false. The amendment failed by a narrow 48–52 margin.

Last updated Nov 21, 2017. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Nov 15, 2017.


Fix NICS Act of 2017

This bill amends the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act to require each federal agency and department, including a federal court, to:

certify whether it has provided to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) disqualifying records of persons prohibited from receiving or possessing a firearm, and establish and substantially comply with an implementation plan to maximize record submissions and verify their accuracy. The bill amends the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007 to:

direct the Department of Justice (DOJ) to establish a state implementation plan, including benchmarks, to maximize the automation and submission of mental health and criminal history records to the NICS; waive the grant match requirement under the National Criminal History Improvement Program (NCHIP) for a state that complies with its implementation plan; reauthorize through FY2022 the NICS Act Record Improvement Program (NARIP); establish, as a priority area for NARIP grant funding, a domestic abuse and violence prevention initiative; and create a funding preference under the NARIP program for states that establish an implementation plan and use grant funds to upload felony conviction and domestic violence records. It amends the Crime Identification Technology Act of 1998 to reauthorize through FY2022 the NCHIP program. If a state complies with its implementation plan, then the federal share of an NCHIP grant may exceed 90% of program costs.