The Washington Post fact checker provides a primer on gun background checks. Federally licensed firearms dealers have been required to run checks on gun buyers since 1994, when the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act took effect. Almost all of these searches are done through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), a database launched by the FBI in 1998 as part of the Brady law. More than 253 million background checks were conducted through the end of 2016. Nearly 27.5 million checks, or 11 percent of the historical total, were done in 2016 alone. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics says that more than 3 million, or 1.5 percent, of gun applications were denied by the end of 2015.
Federal law prohibits the transfer of guns to people convicted of a felony, those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses, fugitives from justice, users of controlled substances, those who have been ruled mentally incapacitated, unauthorized immigrants, people dishonorably discharged from the military and others. Not all states report all their data on convictions or mental health adjudications. The Post takes a close look at claims by President Trump, National Rifle Association executive Wayne LaPierre and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who have all addressed background checks in the days since the Florida school shooting. Far from strengthening the background check system, the Trump administration has taken several actions that could be described as weakening it. Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal 2019 would cut $12 million for a program that awards grants to states to improve their NICS reporting, a reduction from $73 million to $61 million. Trump supports a bill sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) that encourages better reporting to the NICS by federal agencies and states. But the Cornyn-Murphy bill mostly reinforces existing reporting requirements. What’s new is that it eliminates bonus pay for political appointees at federal agencies that do not report all the required data to NICS from fiscal 2019 through 2022.