By Lawrence G. Keane, National Shooting Sports Foundation
With U.S. House passage of H.R. 38 this week, as amended to include the Fix NICS Act, we are moving toward the one reform that will do the most to help keep firearms out of the hands of those who should not have them. And, despite what some have falsely claimed, it will do so while not interfering with the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans.
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was established 17 years ago with Congressional passage of the Brady Act. Today, it is generally not known that the instant criminal background check system itself was the recommendation of the firearms industry, long before there was a Brady Act. The operating principle then and now is to protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens — and the lawful commerce in firearms — while denying access to firearms by those prohibited by current law from purchasing or possessing guns.
Fix NICS is Not Gun Control
Unlike restrictions on semi-automatic rifles or magazine capacity, Fix NICS is not a “gun control” measure, no matter how some opportunistic co-sponsors on that side of the gun debate may choose to characterize the bill. In truth, the legislation is based on the previous state-level work of the firearms industry to improve a system put into place nearly two decades ago. Ever since its inception, NICS has been hamstrung by the systemic failure to include all necessary disqualifying records in its database.
There are many reasons for this failure. And even so, for the most part, the system works. We know this system better than anyone because our retailers are on the front lines every day using it to help protect public safety. That’s why we launched the FixNICS® initiative in 2013. The legislation before Congress is built on this experience.
We are nearing the end of the fourth year of our industry’s national effort, led by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, to ensure that the system has all the appropriate disqualifying criminal and adjudicated mental health records put into it. We have been successful through our direct efforts with 16 state legislatures to pass reforms to ensure that there are no statutory, regulatory, administrative or procedural impediments to entering all appropriate records into NICS.
NSSF’s work has resulted in a 170 percent increase in records submission, to 4.5 million in 2016 up from only 1.7 million in 2013. That is a record of accomplishment. The legislation now before the U.S. Senate will build on this success by providing incentives for states to submit records and help ensure that the military and federal agencies do their part, as already required under federal law.
Now, let’s discuss what the bill does not do. The definition of a prohibited person is not being expanded. Unelected government bureaucrats cannot unilaterally and arbitrarily put the names of law-abiding Americans into the NICS database to stop them from buying firearms, no matter how loudly some might claim. But it will stop prohibited people like the murderer of the innocent victims in Sutherland Springs from being able to purchase firearms from a federally licensed firearms retailer.
If not NICS, What?
For those on the pro-gun side who argue online or respond to posts with the message that the entire system should be scrapped for whatever reason, or that it will lead someday to a national gun registry, you need to hear this: Take a breath, think. If there was not a NICS system, we would have had some other system imposed, just as we did in the five years before NICS was implemented. The Brady Act imposed a waiting period while NICS was under construction. Would you prefer that? Existing federal law prevents a national registry. That will not change with Fix NICS.
Opposing this legislation because a vocal anti-gun Senator has signed on as a co-sponsor is easy, but it accomplishes nothing meaningful. Most Americans want a system to ensure that gun buyers are law-abiding and not mentally ill. That’s why we have NICS. It is politically unrealistic to think that the abolishment of NICS is even remotely possible. It is absurd to think we can support our Second Amendment rights without it.
No one who sells firearms for their livelihood wants to put a gun into the hands of a criminal or a mentally unstable individual. While we know it’s not perfect, we want to work to improve the system – not expand the law – but improve the system. That’s what the Fix NICS Act will do.
We will oppose any senators’ amendments that may be offered that would be truly anti-gun. These senators need to know that they will fail if they put on a show of placing politics ahead of enacting needed reform and attempt to amend the legislation with a Christmas wish list of unworkable and unconstitutional measures. They will fail their constituents and they will fail America.
We have your back. Beware of those trying to politicize the issue – from either side.
Larry Keane is the National Shooting Sports Foundation Sr. VP & General Counsel.