Washington—Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) today announced they will introduce the NICS Data Integrity Act, a bill that would allow the FBI to keep gun-purchase records until background checks are complete.
Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) in February introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
Under current law, the FBI is required to purge incomplete background checks from its systems if they are not completed within 88 days, a practice that can allow guns to be sold without a completed background check.
There has been a surge in gun sales during the COVID-19 pandemic. The New York Times reported that approximately 2 million guns were purchased in March. The recent spike in gun sales means more background checks need to be completed by an already overburdened system and may not be completed in the allotted 88 days.
The bill also requires the FBI to search the National Data Exchange (N-DEx) database, a national information-sharing system between criminal justice agencies, for all background checks. Currently, it can only search N-DEx if a background check is delayed.
“Loopholes in the background check system allow guns to fall into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them,” said Senator Feinstein. “Purging data before a background check is complete prevents law enforcement agencies from doing their job. Our commonsense bill would ensure dangerous individuals can’t hold onto a gun they weren’t legally allowed to buy in the first place.”
“This bill is really basic,” said Senator Blumenthal. “This legislation just prevents a background check from being deleted if it takes too long. 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.”
“It’s absurd that incomplete background check records are literally destroyed if they’re not finished within 88 days,” said Senator Murphy. “Most NICS checks are completed in a matter of seconds, but the handful that require more time and research to determine whether the person is prohibited by law from purchasing a firearm should have the time they need. This is not controversial: over 90% of Americans believe you should have to pass a background check before getting a gun. There’s no reason NICS examiners shouldn’t keep working on incomplete applications until they know for sure they’re not prohibited by law from buying a gun, which is what the NICS Data Integrity Act would require. This is an obvious fix to a loophole in the law that will keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous people and save more lives from senseless violence.”
“When data is purged from the NICS system, there is no way to know how many people have purchased guns without a completed background check or how many firearm purchases would have been blocked if the background checks were complete,” said Congressman Panetta. “As a former prosecutor, I know the importance of keeping firearms out of the hands of dangerous people. That’s why I introduced the NICS Data Integrity Act in the House, to help in that effort by ensuring people who should not have a firearm don’t get a firearm because of a bureaucratic lapse. That is also why I am thankful to Senators Feinstein, Blumenthal and Murphy for their leadership in introducing this critical piece of legislation in the Senate.”
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. The FBI estimated that at least 3,960 guns were obtained illegally in 2018 due to delayed background checks. However, since the data was purged, there is no way to know exactly how many gun sales should have been blocked.