Bipartisan Group of Senators Introduces Bill to Toughen Background Check Denial Laws


Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Chris Coons (D-DE) have introduced a bill that requires federal authorities to notify local law enforcement when someone prohibited from purchasing a firearm attempts to do so.  The NICS Denial Notification Act would alert state officials whenever an individual is denied purchasing a firearm.

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is designed to keep people who have been convicted of a crime or found to be mentally unfit, among several other reasons, from purchasing a firearm.  In 2016, the last year for which there is full data, the federal NICS system processed 9,360,833 background checks and denied 120,497, or about 1% of them.  (Thirteen states process their own background checks through the NICS system.)

The most common reason for denial was a past criminal conviction, followed by the purchaser being a fugitive from the law.  Those two reasons accounted for more than 60% of all denials issued through the federal NICS system.  Adjudicated mental health counted for a little more than 5,600 denials, or less than 5% of the total.

Under current law, in the thirty-seven states and Washington D.C. that process their background checks through the federal system, state authorities generally do not become aware when someone prohibited from purchasing a firearm attempts to do so.  Federal authorities do become aware but rarely prosecute those individuals.  People who “lie and try” to buy a gun are often violating federal and state laws.

The NICS Denial Notification Act requires federal authorities to notify state law enforcement within 24 hours when someone prohibited from purchasing a firearm attempts to do so.  According to the Act’s authors, this will better enable state authorities to investigate, prosecute, or otherwise monitor denied individuals for signs of future criminal activity.

The bill also requires the Justice Department to publish an annual report containing data on the prosecution of background check denial cases so that federal authorities can be held accountable for them.

In addition to Toomey and Coons, the bill is also co-sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Bill Nelson (D-FL), John Cornyn (R-TX), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO)

“We can make progress on gun safety while respecting the Second Amendment rights of American citizens, including better enforcing existing gun laws and responding to warning signs that we get of criminal behavior. This bipartisan bill is a critical step forward in helping to ensure that our communities can be safe from criminals,” Toomey said in a statement.

“By ensuring that state and federal law enforcement are working together to prevent those who shouldn’t be able to buy a gun from getting one, we can make our communities safer. I’m hopeful this legislation can be part of Congress’s efforts to comprehensively address gun violence,” said Coons.

Gun control advocacy groups welcomed the proposal.  In a statement emailed to ITN, John Feinblatt, President of Everytown for Gun Safety said, “When a domestic abuser or convicted felon tries to buy a gun and fails a background check, it’s a crime and a warning sign for law enforcement. Under this bill, state law enforcement would be notified when a criminal tries to buy a gun, and given the information they need to help prevent the next crime from happening.”

“We applaud Senators Toomey and Coons for introducing this bipartisan bill,” he added.

It is unclear when, or if, gun-control legislation, or any legislation addressing mass or school shootings will come up for debate in the Senate however.  Despite outcries from parents, students and lawmakers, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed a motion to hold a procedural vote on banking reform this week, and after that hopes to bring anti-sex-trafficking legislation to the floor.


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