The Federal Bureau of Investigation will now use the Law Enforcement National Data Exchange when performing background checks for gun purchases. The FBI started the Law Enforcement National Data Exchange, or N-DEx, back in 2008.
“N-DEx was one of the FBI’s answers to the 9/11 Commission’s report calling for greater information sharing between all levels of law enforcement,” said FBI unit chief John C. Quinlan.
According to the FBI, these records would keep known criminals from buying guns, potentially preventing crimes across the country. The FBI first considered adding these records to NICS background checks in 2015 after an internal review showed that they could have halted the sale of guns to the Charleston Church shooter.
By adding the N-DEx info to current background checks, the agency is doing what many gun rights advocates have called for a long time: enforcing existing laws, don’t add new ones. Still, the N-DEx is relatively new and unknown and people will have personal security and privacy concerns.
The FBI conducted a study comparing one million standard background checks versus N-DEx checks and found that N-DEx was more accurate. Out of the million checks N-DEx caught two dozen more prohibited persons than NICS alone.
N-DEx allows criminal justice agencies to pool their files and search and share local, state, tribal and federal records — information that might not be on file with NICS. For example, N-DEx contains incident, arrest, and booking reports; pretrial investigations; supervised released reports; calls for service; photos; and field contact/identification records.
Department of Justice deputy assistant attorney general Frank Campbell approved the move. “The idea that the FBI would have info in a database that would prohibit a gun transaction — but not make it available to the background check examiners — just doesn’t make sense,” he said.
NICS advisory board vice chairman Ross Loder also supported the decision to use both, but cautioned against using N-DEx in place of NICS.
“I think everyone recognizes that it could be a valuable and powerful tool, at the same time recognizing that there is the potential for significant consequences, and it would be premature to proceed too aggressively or too quickly,” said Loder.
“N‑DEx receives data from more than 5,200 agencies,” reads the FBI’s N-DEx page. “It contains approximately 260 million records and facilitates an average of 50,000 searches per week. As new users become authorized, searches of the system continue to increase, and new success stories indicate the investigative effectiveness of N‑DEx.”
The N-Dex can also be used by states that don’t use the NICS system. While the bulk of states use the existing national background check system, several states use internal background checks.
NICS has many critics for failing to identify people who aren’t legally allowed to own guns. Earlier this year President Donald Trump signed the “Fix NICS” Act into law. The Fix NICS act penalizes government agencies that fail to report records to the NICS system.