The United States House of Representatives just passed a small appropriation that will improve the accuracy of the national database used to conduct background checks prior to many gun sales. It’s a modest step forward, given significant loopholes in the federal background system which allow many felons to evade background checks altogether — Congress has not yet addressed these loopholes. Nevertheless, this appropriation is a significant victory for supporters of gun regulation during an era when the National Rifle Association appears to have a veto power over legislation.
The guns provision that passed the House, which was attached as an amendment to a larger appropriations bill that also passed early Friday morning, adds an additional $19.5 million in federal grant money which states may use to improve their submissions to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. According to Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), one of the lead sponsors of this amendment, “records for at least 2.5 million fugitives weren’t entered into the NICS system” in five states — potentially enabling these individuals to illegally purchase a gun. Six states have “fewer than 30 total records in the NICS system,” and “12 states have submitted fewer than 100 mental health records to the NICS system.”
In addition to passing this amendment, the House also included a provision requiring the FBI to “report on the progress states and pertinent federal agencies are making toward submitting records to the NICS system each year,” according to the Center for American Progress’ Arkadi Gerney.
The NRA was officially neutral on Thompson’s amendment, although this is actually a step back from their earlier support for a robust background check system. In 1999, after the Columbine High School mass shooting, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre told Congress that “it’s reasonable to provide mandatory instant background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere, for anyone.” Other gun groups, including Gun Owners of America, opposed the amendment.