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Nov 29, 2017

Today, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY.) delivered the following remarks during the House Judiciary Committee’s Markup of H.R. 4477, the “Fix NICS Act of 2017.”

Mr. Chairman, I support the “Fix NICS Act” as a sensible step to improve our national firearms background check system.
When we enacted the Brady Act in 1994, we evolved from a waiting period-based system to one that established a so-called “instant check” through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System — what we now call the NICS. When a licensed gun dealer runs a check on a prospective gun purchaser, that check is ultimately conducted through the NICS — and the various constituent federal and state databases in the NICS. If the check reveals that a purchaser is prohibited under federal law from purchasing and possessing firearms, the sale should be denied.
Of course, it was always apparent that the system would only be as effective as the information reported to and contained in, the NICS.
When the national background check system was instituted, we established the National Criminal History Record Improvement Program (N-CHIP) to help states automate criminal history record case dispositions, many of which were still recorded only on paper and were filed away in courthouses across the country. Although that program has been helpful in making progress toward a seamless background check system, there have been numerous other obstacles.
One such problem was illustrated by the shooting deaths of 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007, after a young student was able to purchase a firearm from a gun dealer because his prohibiting mental health record had not been reported to the NICS system. In response, we enacted the NICS Improvement Amendments Act in 2008 to encourage the submission of mental health records to the NICS, and to direct federal agencies to ensure that they submit to the system any relevant records in their possession.
That law also established the NICS Act Record Improvement Program, otherwise known as NARIP, to help states collect and submit records to the NICS.
Now, after the Sutherland Springs, Texas shooting on November 5th, it is apparent that there continue to be dangerous gaps in reporting to the system. The Air Force had failed to report the court martial conviction of Devin Kelley for domestic abuse against his wife and child. Consequently, Kelley was able to purchase firearms from a gun dealer, after passing a background check he should have failed, and he subsequently shot and killed 26 people.
In response, we have the Fix NICS Act before us today.
This bill would take a number of steps to address the shortcomings with the NICS system.
It would require federal agencies to certify twice per year that they are uploading relevant records to the NICS, and would require agencies to establish implementation plans for submitting the records;
It would reauthorize the NCHIP and NARIP programs;
It would incentivize states to specify which records submitted constitute disqualifying domestic violence records so that background checks may be processed more quickly when such records are encountered; and
It would require that plans be established for each state to ensure that they submit relevant records to the NICS, with grant preferences for states who comply with their plans.
These are all sound steps, which I hope will increase reporting of records to the NICS and will make the system more effective. Accordingly, I will support this bill.
However, the logic of increasing reporting to the system to reduce gaps in the system also extends to the need to expand the background check requirement to all commercial sales — not just sales by licensed gun dealers. We know that a large percentage of all gun sales proceed without a background check through the NICS. It is every bit as urgent that we close that massive loophole, which is much more than a gap in the system. I look forward to addressing this issue, as well as other legislation to strengthen our gun laws to make our citizens safer.
Finally, I note that the last section of the bill would direct the Justice Department to report to Congress the number of instances in which bump stock devices have been used in a crime. I believe we should remove this provision from the bill. It is no substitute for doing what we now know must be done: ban these devices which, when added to a semi-automatic rifle, allow it to be fired at a much higher rate, sometimes approximating fully automatic fire. The ATF has told Members and staff that they do not have the authority to ban these devices through classification or administrative action. So, it us up to us, and we certainly should not wait for the results of a report before taking action. We already know how dangerous they are.
I ask my colleagues to join me in supporting this bill today and, perhaps more importantly, in working with me on these other measures in the future. Thank you, and I yield back the balance of my time.
115th Congress