GOP, Dem Senators Introduce Bill To Bolster Gun Background Check System

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday morning introduced a bill aimed at ensuring the proper criminal record information makes it to the background check system used to approve gun purchases.

“For years agencies and states haven’t complied with the law, failing to upload these critical records without consequence,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement. “Just one record that’s not properly reported can lead to tragedy, as the country saw last week in Sutherland Springs, Texas. This bill aims to help fix what’s become a nationwide, systemic problem so we can better prevent criminals and domestic abusers from obtaining firearms.”

The legislation follows the deadly shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, earlier in November. The Air Force failed to report past criminal conduct by the alleged gunman as was required.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), one of the most vocal gun control advocates in Congress, and Cornyn led the effort to craft the bill. Sens. Tim Scott (R-SC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) have also signed onto the bill.

Despite the bipartisan support for the legislation, the bill likely faces an uphill battle in Congress, since many Republicans oppose any changes to gun laws. After the deadly Las Vegas shooting in October, some Republican senators expressed support for a ban on bump stocks, but that effort has since fizzled out.

The legislation, titled the Fix NICS Act, would require the head of each federal agency to certify twice a year that they have submitted the proper records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and would mandate that each agency develop an implementation plan for ensuring that all records are submitted. If the agency fails to certify which records it has submitted to NICS or fails to follow its implementation plan, political appointees in that agency will not be eligible to receive bonus pay.

The bill also allows the attorney general to use funds for NICS to provide assistance to agencies as they submit records and establishes a program run by the attorney general focused on making sure domestic violence information is reported to the NICS system.

Murphy acknowledged that he would like to see more gun control legislation passed in Congress, but he said that this bill is an important step.

“It’s no secret that I believe much more needs to be done. But this bill will make sure that thousands of dangerous people are prevented from buying guns. It represents the strongest update to the background checks system in a decade, and provides the foundation for more compromise in the future,” he said in a statement.