Sending Office: Honorable David N. Cicilline
Sent By:
Renuka.Nagaraj@mail.house.gov

Request a GAO Study on NICS Background Checks

Cosigners: Blumenauer, Cohen, Jayapal, Jeffries, Meeks, Nadler, Norton, Raskin

Closing: Friday, February 2, 2018

 

 

Dear Colleague,

On November 6, 2017, 26 people were tragically killed Sutherland Springs Texas by a gunman that, by law, should never have had a gun.  The gunman in Sutherland Springs was convicted of assaulting his wife and stepson while he was stationed with the Air Force
but was still able to pass a background check and purchase an assault rifle at a sports store in Texas. The gunman was able to do so because the Air Force never reported his domestic violence conviction for inclusion in the National Instant Criminal Background
Check System (NICS) database.  This is despite the fact that federal agencies are required by law to submit disqualifying records into the NICS database for 10 categories of prohibited persons who are prohibited from owning or buying a firearm, such as convicted
domestic abusers.  

Since the Sutherland Springs shooting, it has come to light that that there is systematic failure to submit records into the background check system across federal agencies which goes back decades.  In 1996, the Pentagon’s inspector general found that the
Army, Navy and Air Force were failing to report the vast majority of convictions to the F.B.I. and, almost two decades later in 2015, the Pentagon Inspector General found that most armed services agencies were still failing to report 30% of convictions.  Additionally,
in 2000, the Government Accountability Office conducted a review on the effectiveness of the NICS system.  The GAO found that, at the time, the NICS database had very few records for each of the prohibited categories and the vast majority of records were being
submitted by just one federal agency.  To understand how to improve reporting by federal entities, it is crucial that we have an accurate picture of how many and what kinds disqualifying records are currently being submitted by federal agencies into the NICS
system.

Please join us in sending a letter to the Government Accountability Office asking for an up-to-date study into how many records federal entities have submitted into the NICS over the last reporting period, what barriers prevent federal agencies from reporting
relevant records and recommended steps for how federal agencies can increase compliance.

If you have any questions about or would like to sign onto this letter, please contact Renuka Nagaraj at Renuka.Nagaraj@mail.house.gov or x54724.

Sincerely,

 

David N. Cicilline                                                       Jerrold Nadler

Member of Congress                                                 Member of Congress

 


 

Text of Letter

 

Gene L. Dodaro

Comptroller General of the United Stattes

Government Accountability Office

441 G Street, NW

Washington, DC 20548

 

Dear Comptroller General Dodaro:

We write to express our concern about the failure of federal entities to comply with federal law and report information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

Under federal law, a federally licensed firearm dealer must conduct a background check on anyone seeking to buy a firearm using NICS which is administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).   Ten categories of persons are prohibited from shipping,
transporting, receiving, or possessing firearms or ammunition.[1] The NICS database contains information submitted by state, local and federal entities,
which are relevant to the determination of whether a person is disqualified from possessing or receiving a firearm, such as criminal warrants, mental health records, court orders, military records and administrative adjudications.  All federal agencies are
required to submit qualifying records for entry into the NICS database. The up-to-date effectiveness of the NICS database necessarily relies on the timely submission of accurate records by these entities. 

However, it has become apparent that not at all federal entities are complying with the law and submitting relevant records to NICS in a timely manner. On November 6, 2017, 26 people were tragically killed Sutherland Springs Texas by a gunman that, by law,
should never have had a gun.[2]  The 10 prohibited categories of persons that are legally blocked from purchasing or owning a firearm and/or ammunition
includes individuals that have been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.  The gunman in Sutherland Springs was convicted of assaulting his wife and stepson while he was stationed with the Air Force but was still able to pass
a background check and purchase an assault rifle at a sports store in Texas. The gunman was able to do so because the Air Force never reported his domestic violence conviction for inclusion in the NICS database. 

A recent New York Times article indicates that the failure to report to NICS is a widespread problem in the armed services, dating back several decades.[3] 
The article details how, during certain periods of time, these federal agencies including the Air Force, Navy, and Army, were failing to submit more than half of criminal convictions.  In addition, a 2011 report by Everytown for Gun Safety concluded that,
despite it being required by law, very few federal agencies share mental health and substance abuse records with NICS, both of which are relevant to two categories of prohibited gun purchasers—unlawful or addicted users of controlled substances and persons
with a disqualifying mental health history.[4]  These findings raise significant concerns about rates of compliance among federal agencies in identifying
and submitting all relevant records to NICS.  

Therefore, we urge you to conduct an investigation reviewing:

  1. Which entities are required to make referrals to NICS under the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007 (NIAA) (Public Law 110-180) and any other applicable federal law and under what circumstances;
  2. What records possessed by an agency are relevant for inclusion in the NICS database;
  3. The number of relevant records submitted by each required entity to the  databases accessible by the NICS during the previous reporting period;
  4. The number of cases that should have been submitted to NICS as required by law by relevant agencies, but were not;
  5. Obstacles to improving reporting by federal agencies to databases accessible by the NICS and recommendations for achieving full compliance.

We urge you to take up with issue in a timely manner.  We greatly appreciate your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

 


[1] These categories include a person who 1) has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year 2) is
a fugitive from justice 3) is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance 4) has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution 5) is an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States or who has been admitted
to the United States under a non-immigrant visa 6) has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions 7) has renounced U.S. citizenship 8) is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an
intimate partner or child of such intimate partner 9) has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence and 10) is under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year. (https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/nics/about-nics )

[2]CNN, What we know about Texas church shooting suspect Devin Patrick Kelley, November 6, 2017   http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/05/us/devin-kelly-texas-church-shooting-suspect/index.html

[3] New York Times, Air Force Error Allowed Texas Gunman to Buy Weapons , November 6, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/07/us/texas-shooting-background-checks.html

[4] Everytown for Gun Safety, Fatal Gaps How Missing Records in the Federal Background Check System Put Guns in the Hands of Killers, November
2011, https://everytownresearch.org/reports/fatal-gaps/

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