NICS Gets Attention, Good and Bad


The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has been getting a lot of attention recently. If you’ll recall, a court-martialed Air Force veteran purchased a rifle illegally and used it to kill 25 people inside a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church on Nov. 5. Turns out that the Air Force had not provided the FBI with details of the court martial. The Air Force also missed the shooter’s initial arrest on domestic-abuse charges and his 2012 escape from a New Mexico behavioral health facility. Had NICS been properly updated, it’s likely the system would have blocked the sale of the murder weapon to the shooter, whose name I won’t repeat.

Federally licensed retailers (FFLs) are required to run a background check through NICS when transferring a firearm to an individual. Firearms retailers rely on NICS to ensure the lawful transfer of firearms to law-abiding citizens. About 260 million NICS background checks have been conducted from Nov. 30, 1998 through March 31, 2017; more than 27 million were conducted in 2016 alone.

However, a background check is only as good as the records in the database. That is why the firearms industry supports improving the current NICS system by increasing the number of prohibiting records states submit to the FBI databases, helping to prevent illegal transfers of firearms to those who are prohibited from owning firearms under current law. Including these missing records will help ensure more accurate and complete checks.

States must improve the NICS database by submitting any and all records establishing an individual is a prohibited person, such as mental health records showing someone is an “adjudicated mental defective” or involuntarily committed to a mental institute, as well as official government records showing someone is the subject of a domestic violence protective order, a drug addict, or subject to another prohibited category.

The existing background check system must be fixed, otherwise we’ll just have more incomplete and inaccurate checks.

Fixing NICS is complicated, however, because new gun owners keep buying more guns. NICS processed a record 27.5 million background checks in 2016. Then to top that off, Black Friday 2017 saw the system get 203,086 requests, up from the previous single-day Black Friday highs of 185,713 last year and 185,345 in 2015. (I would remind Gun Tests readers that gun checks are not a measure of actual gun sales. The number of firearms sold on Black Friday 2017 is likely higher because multiple firearms can be included in one transaction by a single buyer. Also, most states’ CHL holders don’t need NICS checks run on their purchases.)

At Gun Tests, we’re happy to have contributed to the record-breaking sales of firearms — informed gun consumers are usually active buyers, or so you tell me. But no law-abiding gun owners want firearms in the hands of criminals or other prohibited persons.

Come on, Fibbies, do your job.


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