Gun Control

New Gun Bill Urges Everyone to Obey the Other Gun Bills

The legislation mostly reminds federal agencies to follow the laws already on the books.


Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
om Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom

A new bipartisan bill aimed at fixing the holes in the federal background check system was introduced today. Sponsored by an unlikely collection of senators that includes Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), the "Fix NICS Act" promises to "enforce current law regarding the National Instant Criminal Background Check System" (NICS) by giving money to states that do a good job of getting records into the system, and by penalizing federal agencies that do a bad job of it.

The proposal is a response to the Air Force's failure to report Sutherland Springs shooter Devin Kelley's assault conviction to the NICS, which would have prevented him from passing any federal background check.

As far as legislative responses to mass shootings go, this one at first glance seems pretty harmless. For evidence, look at the air of disappointment with which its Democratic sponsors unveiled it. "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," said sponsor Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

Murphy had introduced a bill in late October to actually expand background checks. Feinstein likewise demanded more background checks after the Vegas shooting to compliment her proposed ban on bump stocks. The Fix NICS Act does none of this.

Instead it would require every federal agency, within a year, to create a plan to do better job of handing over records to the federal background check system. The bill would deny bonuses to these agencies' political appointees should they fail to come up with a plan or otherwise fail to comply with it.

The bill would also prioritize certain grants to states that draft similar plans.

This is pretty weak sauce, so it's far from clear that it'll be effective at encouraging more compliance. A similar effort 10 years ago—the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007—obviously failed to prevent the murders in Sutherland Springs.

Ineffective as it might be, the Fix NICS Act is far preferable to some of the other gun control measures bandied about since the October 1 shooting in Las Vegas. Several days after that shooting, a bipartisan House bill was introduced that would retroactively criminalize not only bump stocks—the obscure weapon modification used by Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock—but also any device that increases a semiautomatic weapon's rate of fire. A few weeks after that, another bipartisan House bill was unveiled that would require background checks for the purchase of bump stocks.

Neither has gone anywhere so far. As Reason noted when that second bill was introduced, the outrage machine that is the modern news cycle seemed to have moved on from bump stocks. The November 5 Sutherland Springs shooting sparked renewed interest in some form of gun control regulation, but that second wave appears to have subsided too.

What does that leave us with? A bill so bland that both hardcore gun controllers like Feinstein and relatively solid Second Amendment advocates like Cornyn can publicly support it.