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Fix NICS Bill Would Help Block Gun Sales to Peaceful People

The measure, which Congress may be on the verge of enacting, aims to improve enforcement of misguided rules.

C-SPANC-SPANLegislation aimed at improving background checks for gun buyers may be included in a must-pass spending bill that Congress is expected to approve tomorrow or Friday. The bill, which would encourage data sharing with the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), has faced a surprising amount of resistance for a measure that has broad support among Republicans as well as Democrats and even has the backing of the National Rifle Association.

Some of the resistance to the bill, known as the Fix NICS Act of 2017, is tactical. Democrats, perceiving an opportunity to enact broader gun control following last month's mass shooting at a Florida high school, worry that if Fix NICS passes by itself, Congress will do nothing more. But there are also substantive concerns about Fix NICS that have been raised by supporters of gun rights, who rightly worry that it will help block firearm sales to people who pose no threat to others.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced Fix NICS last November in response to the mass shooting that killed 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The perpetrator of that attack, Devin Kelley, had been convicted by a general court martial of assaulting his wife and stepson while serving in the Air Force, which disqualified him from owning guns under federal law. That record should have prevented Kelley from passing a background check when he bought the rifle he used in the attack, but the Air Force failed to share the information with NICS.

Cornyn's bill aims to prevent that sort of screw-up by requiring federal agencies to certify twice a year whether they are sharing "all relevant records" with NICS and submit plans for improving compliance. Agencies that fail to follow through on their plans would be ineligible for bonus pay. Fix NICS also would encourage sharing of local and state records, which the federal government cannot directly mandate without running afoul of the 10th Amendment, by giving agencies that demonstrate "substantial compliance" preference for Bureau of Justice Assistance grants.

Fix NICS, which Donald Trump supports and the House approved in December as part of a bill that also would make each state's concealed-carry permits valid throughout the country, has 76 cosponsors in the Senate, including 32 Republicans. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who has due-process objections to the bill, is not one of them.

Lee argues that the Department of Veterans Affairs wrongly identifies veterans as "mental defectives," which disqualifies them from gun ownership, when they need help managing their benefits. In a March 18 Townhall essay co-authored by Mark Geist, Lee says about 168,000 veterans have lost their Second Amendment rights as a result of that policy. "Our veterans should not have to worry that their civil rights will be violated if they seek help from the very federal agency that was designed to help them," Lee and Geist write. Lee favors an amendment "requiring a judge to determine that a person is a danger to [himself] or others, or meets similar criteria, before being labeled a 'mental defective.'"

Gun Owners of America shares Lee's concern and raises another objection to Fix NICS. The group notes that current law requires the attorney general to "immediately" correct mistakes when he learns that people have been erroneously included in the NICS database. Fix NICS would give the attorney general 60 days to act, the GOA says, and there are no consequences if he fails to do so.

The NRA argues that the GOA's complaint is misguided, since the revised law would retain the word immediately but give it substance by requiring correction within 60 days. "Fix NICS actually provides some remedy for people who may have been erroneously entered into the NICS database," Lars Dalseide, a spokesperson for the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, told the Washington Free Beacon's Stephen Gutowski in December. "This Fix NICS provision expedites NICS appeals for those individuals, requiring a response within 60 days. Under the current system, the appeals process has taken more than a year in some cases."

The broader problem with Fix NICS is that it aims to improve a system that blocks gun sales to people based on criteria that are unfairly and irrationally broad. Those people include millions of Americans who have never shown any violent tendencies.

Congress has decreed that any felony punishable by more than a year in prison, no matter how long ago it was committed and regardless of whether it involved violence, is enough to strip someone of the fundamental right to armed self-defense. So is any record of court-mandated psychiatric treatment, even if the involuntary patient never posed a threat to anyone else; unlawful use of controlled substances, including taking medication prescribed for a relative and smoking pot in states where it's legal; and living in the United States without the government's permission, which (contrary to what the president seems to think) is by no means an indicator of violent intent. To the extent that "better" background checks prevent peaceful people from buying firearms, they do not qualify as an improvement.

Update: The spending bill unveiled on Wednesday night includes Fix NICS.

[This post has been revised to include the NRA's response to the GOA's criticism of Fix NICS and to clarify that felonies disqualify gun buyers only when they are punishable by more than a year in prison (as they typically are).]

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  • Ken Shultz||

    The NRA is like the ACLU. They're willing to sell other rights short in order to defend a favored cause.

    Please don't make me feel nostalgic for the Obama era, when in response to a horrific shooting, we either did nothing or did something unrelated--like take the confederate flag down from over the statehouse.

  • ||

    The NRA is like the ACLU. They're willing to sell other rights short in order to defend a favored cause.

    Except that the NRA nominally concerns itself with the 2A while the ACLU advances... civil liberties.

    Not that the NRA hasn't compromised on the 2A in the past (and will likely do so into the future) but they're heavily demonized for their stance in favor of a clear constitutional right now. I can't imagine them coming out as the good guy wading into wider social/cultural issues. Seems like it would be dead simple to portray their position in the gay wedding cake debate, either way, as a threat.

  • STSA||

    The NRA is the reason the 2nd Amendment still has any meaning. Without the NRA, the 2nd Amendment would be about militias, government-controlled militias, it would be the end of freedom in America.

    I am a proud member of the NRA and a FREE AMERICAN. I hate Hogg and his commie brigade.

  • Don't look at me.||

    People are breaking laws! We need moar laws!

  • Crusty Juggler||

    We need moar laws!

    Agreed.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The way any peaceful democracy operates is to have the armed agents of the state enter every home and remove Armes which are a threat to the Empire.

    James II, Charles' brother and successor, would not be so lucky. He continued to enforce the laws on disarmament, directing them with increasing force against Puritans and his political opponents. Moreover he used his "dispensing power" to permit Catholic officers to stay with the army. He sought to obtain permission to expand the standing army complaining that during rebellion the militia "is not sufficient for such occasions, and that there is nothing but a good force of well disciplined troops in constant pay that (p.51)can defend us...."[38] Parliament refused, but James kept a limited standing army on foot from his own resources. In 1686 he issued orders to six lord lieutenants complaining that "a great many persons not qualified by law, under pretense of shooting matches, keep muskets or other guns in their houses," and that he desired them to "cause strict search to be made for such muskets or guns and to seize and safely keep them until further order."[39] In Ireland he ordered General Tyrconnel to disarm the populace:

    A royal order came from Whitehall for disarming the population. This order Tyrconnel strictly executed as he respected the English. Although the country was infested by predatory bands, a Protestant gentleman could scarcely obtain permission to keep a brace of pistols.[40]
  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    These measures did James little good; in 1688 his son-in-law and daughter, William of Orange and Mary entered the nation in a supposed "invasion" which came to be known as the "the Glorious Revolution". After defection of a number of his nobility and refusal of the militia to fight, James fled to the Continent.

    This left Parliament with an interesting question: was James king and, if not, how did they go about putting William and Mary on the throne? They approached this problem by promulgating a Declaration of Rights, which listed complaints against James and argued that these had forfeited him the right to rule. After William accepted this Declaration as definitive of the rights of Englishmen, he was permitted to assume the throne and call a Parliament, which then reenacted the Declaration as the Bill of Rights.[41]
  • ||

    The good news: This one simple trick fixes income inequality!
    The bad news: The trick is violence.

  • Thrackmoor||

    One out of one Stalin's agree!

  • Hugh Akston||

    Cornyn's bill aims to prevent that sort of screw-up by requiring federal agencies to certify twice a year whether they are sharing "all relevant records" with NICS and submit plans for improving compliance.

    Is there any problem that can't be solved with more paperwork?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Cornyn's bill aims to prevent that sort of screw-up by requiring federal agencies to certify twice a year whether they are sharing "all relevant records" with NICS and submit plans for improving compliance.

    Or else what?

    Agencies that fail to follow through on their plans would be ineligible for bonus pay.

    Oh, my. I can't imagine there's no resistance coming from agencies over this part alone.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Certification will require that some mid-level bureaucrat submit a form twice a year saying that they're doing their best. And when that inevitably fails to prevent the next mass shooting, Congress can just pass a law requiring federal agencies to certify that they are certifying that they are in compliance, and so on.

    This is what accountability looks like bruh.

  • Ron||

    no bonus pay, they will just increase their budget to match the lost bonus

  • Jerryskids||

    Some of the resistance to the bill, known as the Fix NICS Act, is tactical. Democrats, perceiving an opportunity to enact broader gun control following last month's mass shooting at a Florida high school, worry that if Fix NICS passes by itself, Congress will do nothing more they will lose a lucrative campaign issue for the mid-term elections.

  • Thrackmoor||

    "Fix NICS Bill Would Help Block Gun Sales to Peaceful People"

    That's a feature, not a bug.

  • Rich||

    "mental defectives," which disqualifies them from gun ownership, when they need help managing their benefits.

    Very well. Apply that to congresscreatures, who can't pass a fucking spending bill without mucking it up.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    "Our veterans should not have to worry that their civil rights will be violated if they seek help from the very federal agency that was designed to help them,"

    Everyone else should though. I literally can see no possible negative outcome from making it known that if you seek help for mental illness that you will lose constitutional rights.

  • ace_m82||

    I worked for the VA in 2013 right out of College. They had me fill in for one person who sometimes did the "Brady calls" (calls letting veterans know that the government no longer recognized their right to keep and bear arms). I told the lady who was going to train me on that that I would under no circumstances do so. She just looked at me shocked.

    I'm not sure what happened from there, but no-one asked me to do it again and no-one said anything about my adamant refusal to do my "job". (Take that, Nuremberg defense!)

  • Eidde||

    Whatever, Kim Davis.

  • ace_m82||

    Whatever, Nazi prison guard.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Requiring gun buyers to get government permission is unconstitutional [period]

  • jdgalt1||

    Once again, NRA proves it is really gunowners' enemy. (If NRA had had its way, Heller's case would never have been filed.)

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    I have mixed feelings about this legislation; on one hand I do not trust the government, and especially is "agencies," to accurately and fairly administer any laws, much less those concerning firearms; nor do I agree with many of the proscriptions currently in NICS that targets non violent persons for any felony, or a dv misdemeanor decades prior; however, knowing politics is the "art of compromise," I greatly favor the concealed carry reciprocity. Quid pro quo? I know persons in the GOA and NAGR are anti compromise of any sort; reality is quite different.

  • ||

    This is the worst. As a CWP holder, this looks great for me. But as a Libertarian, i know its just a matter of time before they equate "3rd party" with "mentally defective".

  • R. K. Phillips||

    Brought to you by a Congress that truly believes that creating a new law IS "due process".

  • Alan@.4||

    The Congress would not recognize Due Process if it walked up and offered to shake hands.

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    Many of these objections could be corrected through regulatory interpretation. The objection about Vets having their rights stripped sound suspiciously like the kerfuffle over SocSec recipients being declared mental defectives because they have someone else "balance their checkbook" for them. The VA could be required to piggy-back on the SocSec legislation that is already enacted.

  • Alan@.4||

    Objections could be corrected by "regulatory interpretations". What a fucking laugh, when so many of the problems are attributable to "regulatory interpretations" gone haywire.

  • Alan@.4||

    The NICS thing was a scam from it's beginning. The passage of time has not improved the beast. By what stretch of the imagination do I,a law abiding citizen, TILL PROVED OTHERWISE, have to satisfy some government employee of any damned thing? Talk of putting the horse before the cart, and then we come to the inescapable fact that components of government fail to comply with the laws and the requirements thereof that they inflict upon the citizenry. How come this all to obvious screw-up? Indeed, how come?

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