Federal System Fails to Stop Thousands of Gun Sales

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The mass shootings at Virginia Tech, Charleston, S.C., and Sutherland Springs, Tx., had one thing in common: The killers were able to purchase guns after passing background checks they should have failed. The NICS system used by the FBI and gun retailers to check if a customer is prohibited from buying a firearm is missing millions of records, leading to thousands of sales that should be blocked, the Wall Street Journal reports. A law signed by President Trump in March requires federal agencies to outline how they will ensure relevant information is included in background-check databases and penalizes federal agencies that fail by withholding potential bonuses to officials. The Fix NICS Act, introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), passed in appropriations bill.

At least 25 percent of felony convictions, or about seven million records, were missing as of 2013. Felony convictions are the primary cause for denials. The Interstate Identification Index, known as III, is based on fingerprint records, mostly collected at arrest. Not everyone entering the criminal-justice system is formally booked and fingerprinted. Their convictions may be omitted from the database. About 70 percent of fugitive records were missing as of 2014. Entering state and local warrants into the federal database is time consuming, causing some courts and law-enforcement agencies to be selective in entering warrants. In 2017, the FBI removed thousands of fugitives from its databases by narrowing its definition of a ‘fugitive’ to include only those who have crossed state lines. There are about 29,900 records of drug use in NICS. Twenty two states had not submitted any as of last December. In 2017, 4,864 guns were sold to individuals later determined to be prohibited. If grounds for denial are discovered after the gun was sold, the firearm is supposed to be retrieved by law enforcement, but if often doesn’t happen.

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