August 03, 2020

Members of Congress: Include FBI Background Check Bill in Coronavirus Relief Package

Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Jimmy Panetta (both D-Calif.), joined by 30 of their congressional colleagues, called on the House and Senate leadership to include the NICS Data Integrity Act, a bill that would allow the FBI to keep gun-purchase records until background checks are complete, in the next coronavirus relief package.

Under current law, the FBI is required to purge incomplete background checks from its systems if they are not finalized within 88 days, a practice that often results in guns being sold without finished background checks.

“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 firearms remain in the hands of prohibited individuals,” the members wrote. “During this uncertain time, it is more important than ever to ensure our firearm background check system maintains all data until a background check has been adequately completed. Please help strengthen the NICS system by including the NICS Data Integrity Act in the next COVID-19 legislative vehicle.”

In addition to Senator Feinstein and Representative Panetta, the letter was signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Representatives Don Beyer (D-Va.), Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.), Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), André Carson (D-Ind.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (D-Calif.), Jason Crow (D-Colo.), Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), Madeleine Dean (D-Penn.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.), Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), David Trone, (D-Md.) and Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

Full text of the letter follows:

July 31, 2020

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
Speaker of the House
United States House of Representatives
H-232, U.S. Capitol
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Majority Leader
United States Senate
S-230, U.S. Capitol
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Kevin McCarthy
Minority Leader
United States House of Representatives
H-204, U.S. Capitol
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Charles Schumer
Minority Leader
United States Senate
S-220, U.S. Capitol
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader McCarthy, Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer:

As our country continues to experience a surge in gun sales correlated with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is increasingly evident that Congress must take action to ensure the integrity of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and prevent firearms from getting into the hands of dangerous individuals. To do this, we urge the inclusion of the bicameral NICS Data Integrity Act in the next COVID-19 response package.

While federal law allows a gun to be sold at a dealer’s discretion if an initiated background check has not been completed within three days, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) continues to investigate these open cases afterward. Should FBI determine through such investigation that an attempted purchaser is prohibited, these “delayed denials” are referred to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to retrieve transferred guns. However, FBI regulation requires NICS to purge incomplete firearm background checks from its systems if a final determination has not been made within 88 days.

In 2018 alone, delayed background checks resulted in 3,960 weapons being sold to individuals legally prohibited from obtaining them. But an internal FBI report shows that between 2014 and mid-2019, the agency was required to purge the data of over 1.1 million incomplete background checks, meaning significantly more firearms could still be in the hands of individuals prohibited from possessing them.

The unprecedented surge in gun sales correlated to the COVID-19 pandemic makes this loophole even more dangerous. In June 2020 alone, NICS initiated more than 3.9 million background checks – the most in NICS history. According to internal FBI data from earlier this year, 76,558 background checks were delayed past 3 days in March 2020, a number nearly three times higher than the number of delayed background checks in March 2019. Of the 76,558 delayed, incomplete background checks from March, an estimated 54,000 have already been purged.

This surge in firearm purchases poses a significant threat to public safety if background checks aren’t fully completed: just last month, we marked five years since an incomplete background check allowed a white supremacist to improperly obtain a gun and kill nine churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. We cannot let this happen again.

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 firearms remain in the hands of prohibited individuals. During this uncertain time, it is more important than ever to ensure our firearm background check system maintains all data until a background check has been adequately completed. Please help strengthen the NICS system by including the NICS Data Integrity Act in the next COVID-19 legislative vehicle.

Sincerely,

###