H.R.2640 Analysis

The Knox Report

From the Firearms Coalition


Bringing Perspective to

NICS Improvement


By Jeff Knox


(January 8, 2008) In the last moments of the 2007 congressional session both the Senate and the House passed a revised version of the “NICS Improvement Act” H.R.2640 and the President has now signed it into law. 

The source of much rancor and gnashing of teeth for the better part of 2007, H.R.2640 was a modified version of a perennial bill from avid anti-gun Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and was the result of negotiations with NRA.  With NRA support it flew through the House on a voice vote and seemed destined to pass through the Senate in similar fashion until Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) halted its momentum.  Again NRA went to the bargaining tables to negotiate modifications that would satisfy Coburn without offending bill sponsors like Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY).  The end result was the original bill with some extra verbiage to narrow and more precisely define its exact purpose and intent.

                Any reasonable analysis of this bill must begin with the recognition that NICS exists and is not going away any time soon.  It is supposed to prevent criminals and the “mentally defective” from acquiring firearms through legal channels.  Setting aside debate about the existence of this program – it is unconstitutional and should be repealed – the issue at hand is whether it is better to leave the system as it is or make some changes to “improve” it. 

As things stand, some 90% or better of the millions of NICS checks conducted each year return an approval code within just a few minutes, the rest are divided between denials and delays.  Delays occur when there is identity confusion or records for making a final determination about a buyer’s eligibility are not readily available.  These types of delays are a nuisance for the buyer and the seller as well as the NICS staff.

The stated objective of the NICS Improvement bill is to reduce the likelihood of such problems and confusion and to make sure that everyone who is legally prohibited from purchasing a gun is included in the system (the bill does not change the definitions of who is prohibited.)  Several states have been slow to computerize their criminal and court records to make the pertinent information easily available to NICS and some states have flat refused to provide NICS with certain mental health information for their citizens. 

Even though the Brady Law authorized appropriations of hundreds of millions of dollars a year to assist states in updating and making their records available to NICS, Congress has not actually appropriated the funds and the states have been left to meet the Brady mandate on their own.

The NICS Improvement bill authorizes even more money and hopes to spur Congress to actually appropriate it to get it to the states where it can be of use.  The bill also gives the feds a stick to go along with that carrot.  It authorizes the Attorney General to withhold up to 4% of the federal crime fighting grant money that a state gets each year if they fail to meet their goals. 

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) and the NRA have both been on record as supporting McCarthy’s NICS Improvement bill because it should help to streamline the selling process and minimize delays, but neither group has ever actively worked for passage of the legislation before. 

After the Virginia Tech tragedy, additional emphasis was placed on improving NICS.  Former NRA Director John Dingell (D-MI) brokered an agreement between NRA and the anti-gunners in Congress to produce a bill that could pass.  Along with the basic “improvements,” already proposed by McCarthy, NRA added language to make sure that the means existed for people to regain their Constitutional rights and to ensure that money sent to the states for NICS purposes was actually spent on NICS-related projects. 

The final bill still leaves some questions about what exactly constitutes “other lawful authority” in determining “mental defects,” but it very thoroughly closes the door on any shenanigans intended to block implementation of programs to restore rights and I think there is a pleasant surprise in the fine print.

Argument over the bill will doubtless continue, but in the long run this bill will probably prove to be an improvement over what was there.  It does not increase the threat to law-abiding gun owners and it ensures that those who lose their rights have a means for regaining them.  I wish NRA had been more inclusive of dissenters in the negotiation process, but I’ll not join the chorus condemning them as traitors.

The complete text of H.R.2640 as it was passed by Congress and sent to the President can be read by clicking here.


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©Copyright 2008 Neal Knox Associates