We're not doing enough to patch up the NICS background check system

Shortly after the Texas church shooting we learned that the military hasn’t been providing sufficient information on disciplinary records to the NIC background check system. Since that time, efforts have begun to reform this process and bring the military in line with the needs of law enforcement in the civilian sector. That’s a great start, though it’s horrifying that it took a tragedy of that magnitude to uncover that flaw in the system.

But it turns out that the military isn’t the only weak link in the chain. Today I was reading this report from Lawrence Keane, of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, and was surprised to learn that state-level reporting leaves much to be desired. The NSSF has been working with states across the nation to encourage more cooperation for over a decade, but as Keane points out, the federal government can’t exactly force compliance.

NSSF launched the FixNICS campaign in 2013 to gain full participation from all states to enter disqualifying records into the FBI’s NICS database. At the end of 2012, disqualifying records totaled 1.7 million and 19 states had made fewer than 100 records available with 12 having submitted fewer than 10 records. NSSF got to work with the states to ensure all disqualifying records were submitted to the FBI, including criminal and adjudicated mental health records.

Since then, 16 states have changed their laws to enter disqualifying records into the FBI’s NICS database. By the end of 2016, the number of disqualifying adjudicated mental health records in the database has increased over 170 percent to nearly 4.5 million records. But there is still work to do. New Hampshire has submitted just 51 records, Montana only 13 and Wyoming just four.

I realize that there tends to be a bit of a knee-jerk reaction among some of my Second Amendment loving friends at the idea of “strengthening” anything when it comes to what the gun grabbing lobby wants. I get it. But as I said in the previous article, we’re not talking about expanding anything here. We already have background checks and a system to make them fast and allegedly reliable. All we’re discussing is making the mechanics of it work properly.

The fact that there are states out there that have submitted less than two dozen records tells us there’s something wrong. I understand that Montana and Wyoming have fairly low population densities, but they’ve had more crimes than that in the past twenty years. NSSF isn’t looking for a top-down solution to force compliance. As he says, that raises a serious Tenth Amendment issue. But there are definite possibilities in terms of incentive programs which could foster better participation.

There’s one area where we need to tread very cautiously, however. The question of mental health problems looms large over this discussion and rightly so. Submitting the names of those who have been properly adjudicated as mentally unstable to the system is the right thing to do. We just need to ensure that nobody in Washington gets the bright idea of expanding that concept the same way they did in New York State with the egregiously named “SAFE Act” and begin submitting the names of anyone who’s ever had so much as a visit to a therapist for depression or anxiety. That’s how the list of people barred from owning guns in New York quickly swelled into the tens of thousands.