Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following remarks during the House Judiciary Committee’s markup of the Fix NICS Act of 2017 (H.R. 4477).
Chairman Goodlatte: In order to purchase a firearm from a federal firearms dealer in the United States, an individual must undergo a National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) check, administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). A NICS check includes a query of three databases maintained by the FBI. If a NICS check identifies a person as falling within a prohibited category, the FBI advises the firearms dealer that the transfer is “denied.”
Our NICS system is only as good as the information that resides within it. Unfortunately, records in NICS for prohibited individuals are incomplete.
In 2007, we tragically learned what can happen when all of the relevant information is not properly uploaded into NICS. On April 16, 2007, on the campus of Virginia Tech, a student shot and murdered 32 people and wounded 17 others in two separate attacks. Prior to these horrific events, the shooter had been adjudicated mentally ill and ordered to attend treatment. This adjudication should have barred him from purchasing the firearms used in the attacks. However, the state did not report Cho’s legal status to NICS.
In response, Congress passed and the President signed the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007 (NIAA). The NIAA sought to address the gaps in information available to NICS about such prohibiting mental health adjudications and commitments and other prohibiting backgrounds. Filling these information gaps was intended to better enable the system to operate as intended, to keep guns out of the hands of persons prohibited by federal or state law from receiving or possessing firearms.
A decade later, all of the relevant prohibiting information is still not available in the NICS system. Earlier this month, a mass shooting occurred at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The gunman murdered 26 and injured 20 others. The perpetrator was prohibited by law from purchasing or possessing firearms and ammunition due to a domestic violence conviction. Unlike the Virginia Tech shooting, the shooter in this instance had been convicted before a federal tribunal. He was found guilty during a court-martial while in the United States Air Force. However, the Air Force failed to record the conviction in the FBI NCIC database.
The Fix NICS Act before us today will plug the holes that allow these convictions to go unreported in NICS. Among other things, the bill requires all federal agencies to certify twice per year that they are uploading criminal records information to NICS and requires them to establish an implementation plan to ensure maximum coordination and reporting of records. The bill holds federal agencies accountable for failing to upload records by requiring the Attorney General to publish on the Department of Justice website and report to Congress the status of any agency that has failed to submit the required certification or failed to comply with its implementation plan. Finally, the bill reauthorizes the NICS Act Record Improvement Program (NARIP) and National Criminal History Improvement Program (NCHIP).
I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.