During a time of partisan divide on the issue of gun control, some lawmakers are declaring a 2018 law to strengthen the FBI’s background check system a success.
Since President Donald Trump signed the Fix NICS Act last year, six million new records have been added to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, according to a recent Department of Justice report. The system is a database containing information that could prevent someone from passing a background check to purchase a gun.
The FBI said it can’t determine whether all the additions are because of the act, but it represents a larger effort by state and federal entities to improve the system.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, proposed the bipartisan bill in the wake of the November 2017 mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs that left 26 people dead.
“I authored the Fix NICS Act to help close the gaps in the criminal background check system,” Cornyn said. “I commend the Department of Justice for working to fully implement this law, and I look forward to seeing the continued progress Fix NICS can make to ensure missing records don’t put more innocent lives at risk.”
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, carried the bill in the House. He said the report “proves that bipartisan, common sense legislation can produce effective results and save American lives.”
Cornyn’s lead co-sponsor on the bill was Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., an outspoken advocate for gun control. He called the report a “good start.”
“It’s no secret that I believe much more needs to be done,” Murphy said. “Our background checks system is only as good as the records in it, and we must work to close loopholes that still exist.”
Murphy and other Democrats have cited the need for universal background checks on all gun purchases and “red flag” laws that would allow police to seize firearms if a judge deems the owner to be dangerous.
A spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party said the bill isn’t enough to address gun violence in the U.S.
“We’ve had three more mass shootings in Texas since the passage of this bill,” Abhi Rahman said in a prepared statement. “Texans deserve real solutions to solve our gun violence epidemic — not half measures from Cornyn that are meant purely to score political points.”
Following the shooting in Sutherland Springs, the Air Force admitted it failed six times to report Devin P. Kelley’s history of violence, allowing him to purchase weapons without failing a background check.
“The 2018 Fix NICS legislation authored by Sen. Cornyn pushed the [Department of Defense] to do what they should have been doing all along,” said Mark Oliva, director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “The DoD never submitted disqualifying mental health records and criminal records on that individual.”
The Fix NICS Act was named after a campaign the foundation started in response to the 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. The campaign encourages states to report all records to the database.
“We want to make sure we’re doing everything on our part to make sure that the firearms don’t end up in the hands of those who should never have them, and that front line really is that gun counter,” Oliva said. “It’s our retailers who are running the background check and have to look at that form … and have to decide if the person standing in front of them is actually telling the truth on that.”
Several family members of Sutherland Springs victims are suing Academy Sports + Outdoors, where Kelley’s wife says he purchased the rifle he used in the shooting.
Attorney General William Barr declared the act a success, pointing to the 6.2% increase in the number of records.
“This shows the bipartisan commitment,” Oliva said. “When you talk about middle ground and common sense solutions, this is it.”
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