Issues don’t come any more polarizing in the United States than gun rights. Despite the fact that the Bill of Rights makes it clear that our Founding Fathers considered the right to bear arms as something that should never be infringed, there are still plenty of liberals more than happy to get rid of that right, and quite a few politicians who would love taking that power away from the populace.
The deep divide in how people view the gun rights and gun control debate makes it almost shocking when a bill related to guns comes out with bipartisan support, but that’s what happened recently with Senate Bill 2135. The bill seeks to correct the problems that led to the shooting in a Sutherland Springs, Texas church at the beginning of November.
While many see this bill as a positive sign that legislators have found some common ground, it’s important to temper expectations here. The bill has its merits, but the fact that it’s even necessary in the first place exposes bigger issues. And there are undoubtedly those who only consider it a first step in more gun control, which we don’t need.
What’s Wrong with the NICS?
The National Instant Background Check System (NICS) is what holders of a federal firearms license (FFL) use to check prospective buyers. After decades of talk about background checks for firearm purchases, the FBI launched the NICS in 1998.
Any time a person wants to buy a gun through an FFL holder, whether at their local shop or an online gun store, they need to fill out a form that the licensee then sends to the FBI. Within a maximum of three business days but typically in a matter of minutes, the FBI can check its databases through the NICS and see if the buyer is approved or denied for the purchase. This means that most firearms purchases in the United States already require a background check, with the only exceptions being private party transfers and gun show purchases, although certain states require background checks for those as well.
If there is anything in the system that would prohibit the person from buying a gun, such as being dishonorably discharged from the military or a domestic violence conviction, then they get denied – in theory.
In practice, the NICS is full of holes because, states and federal agencies don’t always upload information like they’re supposed to. States technically can’t be forced to upload this information, but federal agencies can. Regardless, both have failed to do so plenty of times.
That leads to situations like the Sutherland Springs church shooting, where the perpetrator, Devin Patrick Kelley, had a domestic violence conviction and a dishonorable discharge on his record. The Air Force failed to upload that to the NICS, which meant Kelley was able to buy firearms like the oft-demonized AR-15 rifle that he would later use in the shooting.
The Sutherland Springs church shooting isn’t even the only example of flaws in the NICS resulting in a tragedy. Dylann Storm Roof, the perpetrator behind the Charleston church shooting, had a felony on his record that should have kept him from buying a gun. There was an administrative error with his record, and that allowed him to get a Glock 41.
The shooting in Sutherland Springs seemed to be the tipping point leading both sides to back a new bill aimed at preventing further tragedies.
How Senate Bill 2135 Would Work
The bill is officially known as Senate Bill 2135, although it has also been referred to as the Fix NICS Act. John Cornyn, a Republican senator from Texas, and Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, are the main forces behind the bill. It also has the support of several other senators on both sides, including Dianne Feinstein from California.
Here’s what the bill would do if it passes – it would create incentives and penalties to hopefully entice states and federal agencies to upload information promptly to the NICS. Since the states aren’t required to do so, there would be federal funding incentives to encourage them to cooperate. Federal agencies would face penalties for any failures to upload information.
It would set up new measures designed to check the current records in the NICS and make sure that they’re accurate. The bill would also lead to an initiative focused on domestic abuse and violence, which would help keep people with domestic violence offenses on their record from purchasing firearms.
Most Groups Support the Bill
There hasn’t been much negative reaction regarding the bill, although it’s hard to get upset about a bill that doesn’t really change anything and only focuses on enforcing existing laws better.
Both Democrats and Republicans have gotten on board with the bill, and it also has the support of gun rights organizations, including the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). Gun control groups, including Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, are happy about it. Other organizations who have publicly supported the bill include the National Fraternal Order of Police and the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
It hasn’t been 100-percent universal support, though, as the Gun Owners of America (GOA) have come out against it. They claim that the proposed changes are a win for gun control advocates, and that there shouldn’t be a background check system at all. They also said that they’re against adding more information to the NICS because it may end up being used to keep law-abiding citizens from purchasing guns.
The Bill May Help, but It Doesn’t End the Gun Control Debate
It’s hard for me to get too excited about the Fix NICS Act, and some of the positive reactions to it are overblown. One story referred to the bill as something that could have stopped the Texas mass shooting. Another called in a win for everyone.
That’s a bit much. If anything, let’s call it a participation trophy for everyone. Politicians get to band together and act like they’re doing something, even though they’re simply trying to better enforce the gun laws we already have. By the way, it’s very ironic that Democrats would come to that conclusion, considering the NRA has been saying that for years.
While liberals have ruthlessly criticized the NRA and any politicians who receive donations from it, often going so far as to blame both any time a mass shooting occurs and say that the blood is on their hands, the NRA has argued that what we need is enforcement of current gun laws. And now, those on the left are supporting a bill that does exactly that.
Is the Fix NICS Act a step in the right direction? It could work well, but this isn’t the first time we’ve been down this road. After the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, there was the NICS Improvement Amendments Act. Here we are 10 years later, and once again, we’re focusing on making NICS actually work for its intended purpose.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the left isn’t going to stop here. There may be support for this bill on both sides, but, as always, Democrats will continue to push for more gun control. For them, the Fix NICS Act is a consolation prize. After all, Senator Murphy had already been pushing to expand background checks in October after the Las Vegas shooting. Senator Feinstein was in favor of that and was also trying to get bump stocks banned.
Since the Fix NICS Act doesn’t expand background checks, ban bump stocks or ban anything else gun-related, expect the Democrats to keep fighting to take away gun rights. Every time they get an inch, they’ll look to take a mile.
Keeping guns away from criminals is something I can always get behind, and hopefully, this bill ends up working perfectly. But after the way a similar bill has failed in the past, I won’t be holding my breath on this one.