Attaching “Fix NICS” to Carry bill kills both.
By Jeff Knox
(December 6, 2017) A bill called “Fix NICS,” which is supposed to improve reporting of disqualifying information from the states and federal agencies to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, was on greased rails in Washington D.C., headed for certain passage in both the House and Senate. That bill now appears dead, and I can’t say I’m sorry to see it die.
The reason Fix NICS is dead, is that some Republican lawmakers decided that if they were going to go along with adding resources and mandates to a multi-billion dollar system dedicated to investigating Americans wishing to exercise an enumerated constitutional right, those Americans should get something out of the deal too. So they combined the Fix NICS bill with a bill that would force states to recognize the carry rights of people who visit them from other states, the National Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act.
This whole thing has caused a rift within the gun world. Many rights advocates are suspicious of any bill that is supported by Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein. They also don’t like the idea of giving more money and power to a system that already spends exorbitant amounts of money, with very little to show for it, and there are details within the bill which are really problematic. Particularly troubling is the mandate that federal agencies involved in mental health report information to NICS. This blew up into a major battle last year when the Social Security Administration tried to implement a policy that would declared a Prohibited Person anyone who had turned management of their day-to-day finances to family or a fiduciary. ,Now many of the same groups that railed about the SSA’s plan, are endorsing a bill that would penalize the agency for failing to implement such a plan.
It’s not that the Fix NICS bill is itself a bad bill, so much as it is a bill that throws money and leverage behind existing laws that are deeply flawed. Fix NICS designates over three quarters of a billion dollars toward polishing a very large, smelly piece of poo.
We had this same debate a decade ago in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre. In that case the murderer probably should have been reported to NICS due to court-ordered, outpatient psychiatric treatment, but those records had never been transmitted to NICS. At that time Congress took up a bill called the NICS Improvement Act. Purist groups like Gun Owners of America fiercely opposed the bill, calling it back door attempt at gun control, while the NRA and some other gun groups endorsed it. In the end, GOA’s push-back did some real good, as some of the worst flaws in the bill were corrected before it was finally passed, and some actual improvements to NICS and the underlying law were achieved. The NICS Improvement Act was focused on forcing states to do a better job of reporting people to NICS if they met the criteria of a “prohibited person” – felons, fugitives, perpetrators of domestic violence, and “mental defectives.” It also mandated federal agencies report “prohibited person” information to NICS.
On the other side of the ledger, the final version of the bill included a process by which persons who had lost their firearm rights due to mental issues, could regain their rights. Before the NICS Improvement Act, the loss of rights for mental health reasons was permanent, with no way for a person to regain rights, even if their problems had only lasted a short time, and been resolved decades prior.
Like its predecessor, the 2017 Fix NICS bill was triggered by a failure of NICS to stop a homicidal maniac from acquiring guns through legal channels and using them to commit a brutal atrocity. In this case, the murderer who killed 26 congregants at a Baptist church in Texas, had been convicted in a court-martial for domestic violence, but the Air Force had failed to report the case to NICS. Investigations subsequently revealed that the failure to report disqualifying information to NICS is fairly common among all of the armed services. But why does that require new federal legislation? The armed forces are federal agencies, and they are mandated by law to report these cases to NICS. Does Congress really need to throw another $800 million at NICS to get reliable criminal records from the Army, Navy, and Air Force?
But here we are. Gun owners have been clamoring for Congress to pass a national carry bill for years, and we finally have pro-rights majorities in both the House and Senate, and a pro-rights president in the White House, so what’s the problem?
The problem is the Senate, where Republicans hold a razor-thin majority, Democrat leaders are determined to block any pro-rights legislation, and Republican leaders are afraid of their own shadows.
Upon learning that the Fix NICS bill was going to be attached to the National Carry bill in the House, Senate Republican Whip, and sponsor of the Senate versions of both bills, John Cornyn (R-TX), lamented that combining the two bills would make passing Fix NICS very difficult. He didn’t seem at all interested in how the move might affect the concealed carry bill.
We at The Firearms Coalition are mostly ambivalent about the Fix NICS bill. We don’t support the polishing of poo, but we can tolerate the smell if we can get a decent carry bill passed. Our concern now is just how much combining the bills – and the battling hype between gun activists – will distract from the actions – or inaction – of the Senate. As we’ve been repeating for years, we need record floor votes on clean gun bills so we can hold senators accountable. We don’t expect either bill to make it out of the Senate now, unless someone makes a really bad deal on the Fix NICS bill, and in the unlikely event that we actually do get some sort of a vote related to national carry, the Shinola spattered about is almost certainly going to make it less useful come election time.