This week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered the FBI and the ATF to conduct a comprehensive review of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
“The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is critical for us to be able to keep guns out of the hands of those that are prohibited from owning them,” said Sessions in a press release.
“The recent shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas revealed that relevant information may not be getting reported to the NICS – this is alarming and it is unacceptable,” he continued.
“Therefore, I am directing the FBI and ATF to do a comprehensive review of the NICS and report back to me the steps we can take to ensure that those who are prohibited from purchasing firearms are prevented from doing so,” concluded Sessions.
Sessions wants the agencies to do all of the following:
- Work with the Department of Defense to identify and resolve any issues with the military’s reporting of convictions and other information relevant to determining prohibited person status under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g).
- Conduct a review to identify other federal government entities that are not fully and accurately reporting information to NICS. If any such entities are identified, a plan should be developed to ensure full and accurate reporting to NICS going forward to the extent required under current law.
- Conduct a review of the format, structure, and wording of ATF Form 4473 and recommend changes as necessary.
- Prepare a report that addresses: (a) the number of current open investigations for making a false statement on ATF Form 4473; (b) the number of investigations for making a false statement on ATF Form 4473 for the past five years; (c) the prosecution referral and declination numbers for the current year, as well as the past five years for making a false statement on ATF Form 4473; and (d) the priority level assigned to investigations for making a false statement on ATF Form 4473.
- Identify any additional measures that should be taken to prevent firearms from being obtained by prohibited persons, including identifying obstacles to state, local, and tribal entities sharing information with NICS.
News of the audit comes in the wake of bipartisan legislation aimed at improving NICS. Sponsored by John Cornyn (R-TX) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), among others, the Fix NICS Act seeks to ensure all federal and state authorities are submitting mental and criminal records to NICS.
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There is one glaring question I have about Sessions’ internal review and the Fix NICS Act. Does it pave the way for universal background checks?
There are not many people that disagree with the idea of improving the NICS system, at least in theory. The NSSF, the firearms industry trade association, has said on multiple occasions that “A background check is only as good as the records in the database.”
The idea being that if NICS is missing records or if it has incomplete information than there are holes in the system. When there are holes in the system, prohibited persons will be able to purchase firearms from gun shops. Just like we saw in Sutherland Springs, TX.
So, let’s close the holes, right? That’s what Sessions and lawmakers are attempting to do right now. What’s going to happen, though, even after NICS is buttoned up? Anti-gunners are going to point out that private citizens can still transfer firearms to one another without a background check. What they’ve dubbed, “the gun show loophole.” They’re going to say the system is still broken.
What I fear is that by overhauling NICS we are endorsing the idea that the system is the solution. That background checks stop mass killers. The madman in Sutherland Springs did purchase a firearm via an FFL. The Air Force did not submit his domestic abuse records to NICS. But even if the records were submitted and the sale was declined, wouldn’t he still get his hands on a firearm?
With more than 300 million guns in this country, I think it’s more than likely. Okay, but let’s pretend that he wasn’t able to get a gun. Could he have resorted to other methods to kill those churchgoers? Absolutely. As we’ve seen in Europe, jihadists have no problem murdering a bunch of people with rental trucks.
My point is that in the wake of a tragedy, we get sidetracked with conversations about fixing the system. As if the solution to lone wolf attacks is to improve and expand the system. The problem is that you can’t expand the system without expanding government. In Europe, they’ve expanded the system to its logical conclusion. To the point where gun rights are virtually non-existent. Yet, those governments still can’t stop spree killers.
I think it’s worth asking, what happens when fixing NICS isn’t enough to stop the next crazed gunman? They’re going to say we need to close the gun show loophole. What happens when closing the gun show loophole isn’t enough? They’re going to argue we’ll need registration. What happens when registration isn’t enough? We’ll need… Well, you get the idea.
Maybe the gun industry can work with lawmakers and Sessions to Fix NICS without open up this can of worms. I think it’s highly doubtful but we’ll see.