Since it launched in 1998, the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), has completed almost 262 million checks. The system screens buyers in all gun purchases and transfers at federally licensed stores, as well as applicants for concealed-carry permits. In several key ways, it is not doing the job its creators intended, reports The Trace. The system still uses incomplete databases of criminal and mental health records. It is understaffed and works much slower than it once did. People who are wrongly denied a sale may be out of luck, as the appeals system is way behind.
Those are three top challenges facing the system that await the successor to James Comey as FBI director. FBI examiners must rely on cities, states, and other federal agencies to submit records that disqualify people from gun ownership. Many agencies do not report records to NICS, sometimes with deadly consequences. NICS has employed 230 examiners since at least 2012. That year, examiners processed 16.5 million background checks. The same number of employees completed 27.5 million checks in 2016. As examiners’ workloads increase without relief, the conditions are ripe for errors or incomplete checks; in some cases, individuals are denied a gun purchase when they shouldn’t be. In 2015, NICS denied 106,556 background checks. In 3,625 cases, a denial was overturned on appeal. In October 2015, citing manpower shortages, NICS stopped accepting appeals altogether. The FBI didn’t restore the function until February of this year; examiners are still working on appeals submitted almost two years ago.