Gun Laws & Legislation

Firearms Industry Improves Background Checks

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By Larry Keane

In any other arena, whether personal development, academic grading or business growth, achieving a 270 percent increase above a baseline would be considered an outstanding achievement worthy of praise. The firearm industry just pulled it off and is working to get the number even higher.

NSSF achieved a 270 percent increase in the number of submitted adjudicated mental health records to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). That’s the system used by firearm retailers to ensure customers aren’t prohibited individuals. The firearm industry is working to make sure each time a retailer runs a check, they can be confident NICS is providing them an accurate determination based on full and complete data.

The updated figure as of Dec. 31, 2020, is a direct result of state-level efforts spearheaded by the firearm industry trade association, as well as the federal-level bipartisan FixNICS congressional legislation, signed into law by President Donald J. Trump in 2018.

30 Years of Progress

The current FBI NICS point-of-sale instant criminal background check system is over 20 years old. But NSSF has always supported thorough firearm background checks, including the 1993 Brady Act that created point-of-sale background checks at retailers and the 1998 law creating NICS, which further coordinated information sharing between states and federal agencies.

However, 10th Amendment limitations mean the federal government can’t force states to share prohibiting mental health records with the federal agencies. NSSF launched the FixNICS® campaign in 2013 to urge states to boost efforts and resources to proactively share this information.

NSSF efforts led to victories in 16 states so far that passed laws increasing the number of prohibiting mental health records to FBI’s NICS. Federally, Fix NICS legislation introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), named after the NSSF’s FixNICS campaign, was included in legislation receiving bipartisan support in both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and ultimately signed into law by President Trump. The federal bill required federal agencies to enter all disqualifying records under current law. Sen. Cornyn’s legislation also allowed a federal grant for states to help upload these records.

The background check system is only as good as the quality of the records submitted. In December, 2012, the NICS background check system only included approximately 1.7 million disqualifying adjudicated mental health records and involuntary commitments. By Dec. 31, 2020, that number had risen to more than 6.14 million. That’s a 270 percent increase.

Further demonstrating how much the system has improved, since the NICS system first began processing background checks in November 1998, there have been over 365 million checks run to date. The accuracy of NICS is critical to keeping firearms out of the hands of prohibited persons. Firearm retailers rely upon NICS each time they transfer a firearm and that’s been especially important during the recent stretch of historic firearm purchasing by law-abiding Americans.

Industry-led Real Solutions

NSSF’s efforts to increase the effectiveness of the background check system is not the only initiative the firearm industry has spearheaded to offer Real Solutions for Safer Communities®. In addition to FixNICS, Operation Secure Store® provides firearm retailers with information and resources to help deter thefts and robberies. Don’t Lie for the Other Guy™ is an industry-led campaign reminding the public that lying on the background check form to purchase a firearm for someone who cannot or won’t do so themself is a felony that carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine. Project ChildSafe® is NSSF’s campaign to promote safe and secure home firearm storage. Teaming up with more than 15,000 local law enforcement agencies in all 50 states and U.S. territories, NSSF has provided more than 40 million free firearm safety kits including gun locking devices to secure firearms. NSSF is also working with the largest suicide prevention organization to help reduce suicides involving firearms by providing information and resources to firearm retailers, ranges and gun owners.

All of these initiatives are industry-led efforts and have a proven track record of success. These programs have led to the lowest level of accidental firearm fatalities in America since the data was first recorded in 1903.

These are Real Solutions. They make our communities safer. They work and the firearm industry will keep working at them.

Larry Keane is Senior Vice President of Government and Public Affairs and General Counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry trade association.