More than 1.6 million disqualifying records were added into the federal background check system index in 2016, according to a report released last month.
Kimberly J. Del Greco, section chief of the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, said multiple agencies provided 1,650,428 criminal records to the government, giving federal agents the information necessary to deny more than 120,000 firearm transfers.
“As the NICS Section moves forward with the future development of NICS, we are committed to consistently providing its users and the citizens of the United States with a highly effective and efficient level of quality service in the furtherance of public safety and national security,” Del Greco said in the 2016 NICS Operational report.
Nearly 41 percent of the denials last year comprised applicants convicted a crime punishable by more than one year in prison — or two years for a misdemeanor. Another 20 percent of applicants were denied as “fugitives from justice.”
About 9 percent of denial in 2016 were related to substance abuse — slightly higher than the 8 percent denial rate recorded in NICS’s 19-year history.
Some 5,638 denials were issued based on mental health records, according the report, or about 4.6 percent of the total applications denied in 2016. The rate is low in comparison to the system’s 19 percent denial rate overall for those adjudicated mentally ill.
It’s the disqualifying category that draws the arguably most ire — politically — for its perceived role in preventing mass shootings.
Congress approved the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1994 and since then more than 257 million background checks have been processed through NICS.
State and federal attempts to expand the background check system have thus far focused on which type of sales to regulate or how long to mandate waiting periods when applications fall into pending status. Supporters of the various measures say subjecting private transfers to background checks will keep guns out of the hands of criminals, while longer waiting periods afford the FBI more time to investigate red flags turned up in the background check process.
Gun groups, however, say lengthening waiting periods or casting a wider net on sales doesn’t address the true issue with NICS — shoddy record keeping at the local level and an unwillingness from certain states to upload disqualifying documents into NICS.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation takes the middle ground on the issue, spearheading a years-long effort to improve the federal records system with a campaign called “Fix NICS.”
“Through a multi-state effort focused on forming coalitions in the states with the fewest submitted records, the industry has dedicated significant resources to helping states overcome the legal, technological, and intrastate coordination challenges preventing effective record sharing,” said Larry Keane, NSSF’s general counsel, in a blog post published in April.
A 2012 review of state participation levels in NICS revealed 19 state provided less than 100 records to the federal system. Some two-thirds of those states made fewer than 12 records available, the NSSF said.
“The industry’s FixNICS campaign addresses this by advocating for changes to state laws and regulations that encourage agencies and courts to fully participate by making sure they submit mental health records that show an individual is prohibited from purchasing a firearm under current law,” Keane said.
Since kicking off its campaign four years ago, the numbers of disqualifying records uploaded to NICS increased 170 percent. Legislation passed in 16 states boosted the number of records provided to NICS from 1.6 million in 2012 to almost 4.5 million in 2016.
“This significant increase is driven by states like Pennsylvania, which now has 794,589 records, compared to one in 2012,” Keane said. “New Jersey, another FixNICS success story, has now submitted 431,543 records, up from 17 in 2012, and is now ranked as the second best state on a per capita basis.”
He continued, “Ten years after the Virginia Tech tragedy, the firearms and ammunition industry continues to work with states and coalition partners to ensure the background check system is effective and complete.”
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