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Senators Introduce Gun Safety Bill to Ensure Completion of Background Checks

Washington—Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy (both D-Conn.) today introduced the NICS Data Integrity Act, a bill that would allow the FBI to maintain gun-purchase records until background checks are complete.

Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) in February introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

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.

There has been a surge in gun sales during the COVID-19 pandemic. The New York Times reported that approximately 2 million guns were purchased in March, the second highest monthly total ever. The recent spike in gun sales means more background checks need to be completed by an already overburdened system and may not be done in the allotted 88 days.

The bill also requires the FBI to search the National Data Exchange (N-DEx) database, an information-sharing system used by criminal justice agencies, for all background checks. Currently the FBI can only search N-DEx if a background check is delayed.

“Dangerous individuals shouldn’t be able get a gun because of flaws in our background check system,” said Senator Feinstein. “Our commonsense bill would close a major loophole that requires data to be purged before the background check is complete. Law enforcement agencies should be allowed to finish the job and ensure that guns are kept out of the hands of people who weren’t legally allowed to buy them in the first place.”

“This bill is really basic,” said Senator Blumenthal. “This legislation just prevents a background check from being deleted if it takes too long. 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’s absurd that incomplete background check records are literally destroyed if they’re not finished within 88 days,” said Senator Murphy. “Most NICS checks are completed in a matter of seconds, but the handful that require more time and research to determine whether the person is prohibited by law from purchasing a firearm should have the time they need. This is not controversial: over 90% of Americans believe you should have to pass a background check before getting a gun. There’s no reason NICS examiners shouldn’t keep working on incomplete applications until they know for sure they’re not prohibited by law from buying a gun, which is what the NICS Data Integrity Act would require. This is an obvious fix to a loophole in the law that will keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous people and save more lives from senseless violence.”

“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 firearm purchases would have been blocked if the background checks were complete,” said Congressman Panetta. “As a former prosecutor, I know the importance of keeping firearms out of the hands of dangerous people. That’s why I introduced the NICS Data Integrity Act in the House, to help in that effort by ensuring people who should not have a firearm don’t get a firearm because of a bureaucratic lapse. That is also why I am thankful to Senators Feinstein, Blumenthal and Murphy for their leadership in introducing this critical piece of legislation in the Senate.”

According to an internal FBI report, the agency was required to purge more than 1.1 million incomplete background checks between January 2014 and July 2019 due to the current law. The FBI estimated that at least 3,960 guns were obtained illegally in 2018 due to delayed background checks. However, since the data was purged, there is no way to know exactly how many gun sales should have been blocked.