Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Jimmy Panetta (both D-Calif.) today introduced the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Data Integrity Act, a bill that would require the FBI to complete all gun-purchase background checks.
Under current law, the FBI is unable to complete background checks if they are not finalized within 88 days. After that arbitrary duration, the FBI is required by law to purge all records related to a background check from its systems. The result is that prohibited individuals are sometimes allowed to retain possession of firearms because a background check wasn’t finalized.
This 88-day requirement has become even more of a burden as gun sales have increased in recent years. More gun sales mean more background checks that must be completed by an already overburdened system.
In addition to removing the deadline in which the FBI must complete a background check, the bill also requires the FBI to search specific databases during the background check process, all of which contain information relevant to determining whether a buyer is legally eligible to purchase a gun. Currently, there is no established process for which databases must be searched.
“Dangerous individuals who aren’t legally allowed to own a gun are often still able to buy one because of major flaws in our background check system. That needs to stop,” said Feinstein. “We need to close the loophole that requires the FBI to purge data before background checks are completed. This will allow law enforcement officials to finish their job and keep guns out of the hands of people who aren’t legally allowed to buy them.”
“Background checks to purchase firearms from licensed dealers are necessary to prevent those firearms from falling into the wrong hands,” said Panetta. “Unfortunately, some people’s background checks take longer than others. However, just because of that duration, it shouldn’t mean that we automatically dispose of any existing information that’s already been compiled during the background check. By requiring such information to be retained, the government can fulfill its duty to effectively conduct and complete background checks, ensure the proper ownership of firearms, and enhance the safety of our society.”
In the Senate, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.).
“This bill is really basic. This legislation just prevents a background check from being deleted if it takes too long,” said Blumenthal. “The vast majority of background checks are completed in mere moments. This legislation closes a loophole that allows the checks that take longer from being wiped completely. If you support keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people, there is simply no reason to oppose it.”
“Loopholes in our current gun safety laws continue to allow individuals with incomplete or inconclusive background checks to get their hands on a firearm. This is reckless and has to stop,” said Menendez. “This common-sense legislation will help keep our communities safe by directing the FBI to maintain information necessary for conducting firearm background checks in cases of incomplete or inconclusive firearm checks, and by using additional relevant databases as part of a firearm-related background check.”
“Most background checks take just a few minutes to complete. Purging records related to background checks on the rare occasion when they’re not able to be completed quickly makes no sense. This bill closes a glaring loophole that will allow NICS examiners to finish their work and keep guns out of the wrong hands,” said Murphy.
“It makes zero sense for the FBI to short-circuit a process that keeps deadly weapons out of the hands of criminals,” said Whitehouse. “We need to let law enforcement do its job and keep our communities safe.”
“Background checks are among the most effective ways to keep firearms out of the hands of individuals who may pose a threat to themselves or others,” said Padilla. “Placing an arbitrary time limit on these checks endangers people’s lives. I’m glad to support this commonsense fix to ensure that background checks apply to all gun sales from licensed dealers.”
In the House, the bill is cosponsored by Representatives Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).
According to an internal FBI report, the agency was required to purge more than 1.1 million incomplete background checks between January 2014 and July 2019 due to the current law.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, an estimated 7,500 guns could have been obtained illegally in 2020 due to delayed background checks – more than the previous two years combined. However, since the data was purged, there is no way to know exactly how many gun sales should have been blocked.