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.
“The best way to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals is to complete a background check for every single sale,” said Senator Feinstein. “Unfortunately, a major flaw in our system too often forces the FBI to stop background checks before they’re completed and purge any data collected. This makes no sense. Our bill would allow the FBI to finish all background checks to ensure that people who aren’t legally allowed to buy a gun don’t get one.”
“Time limits on background checks for firearms purchases can undermine law enforcement’s ability to prevent these weapons from falling into the wrong hands,” said Representative Panetta. “By removing 88-day time limit for the FBI and allowing it to retain its information, law enforcement can fulfill its duty to effectively conduct and complete background checks, ensure the proper ownership of firearms, and enhance public safety. This is a simple fix to a loophole in our gun laws that will help us as we continue our work to reduce gun violence.”
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.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
“It is reckless and utterly unacceptable that loopholes in current gun safety laws continue to enable individuals with incomplete or inconclusive background checks to get their hands on firearms,” said Senator Menendez. “This common-sense legislation will help protect communities across our country by directing the FBI to maintain records necessary to complete background checks, even if those checks take an extended amount of time. It also requires background checks to search specific databases known to contain relevant information, which will make background checks more effective and help address the gun violence epidemic in America.”
“This bill is really basic. This legislation just prevents a background check from being deleted if it takes too long,” said Senator 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.”
“It makes no sense that current law requires the destruction of background check records if they’re not finalized by the arbitrary 88-day deadline. Most background checks are completed in just a few minutes, but the handful that require more research to determine if a buyer is prohibited by law from purchasing a firearm should be able to take the time they need. This legislation closes that loophole and would allow NICS examiners to finish their work and keep guns of the hands of dangerous people,” said Senator Murphy.
“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 Senator 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.”
“There are still way too many loopholes in our current background-check system that allow dangerous individuals to get their hands on deadly weapons,” said Senator Whitehouse. “Closing this particular time-limit loophole will untie law enforcement’s hands to better keep our communities safe.”
According to data compiled by NBC News, the FBI was required to purge more than 734,604 incomplete background checks between January 2020 and November 2021 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.