FBI Data Show Gun Background Checks Still Undermined By Information Gaps Six Months After Senate Probed Flaws

May 25, 2012, 14:49 ET from Mayors Against Illegal Guns

National "Do Not Sell" Database Still Missing Millions of State and Federal Records On Seriously Mentally Ill Individuals, Drug Abusers

States That Receive Federal Grants Share Records at Sharply Higher Rate

NEW YORK, May 25, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Many states and federal agencies are still failing to share records about dangerous individuals with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), leaving dangerous gaps in a database designed to keep firearms from falling into the wrong hands, according to new information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The update comes six months after gun violence survivors urged a Senate committee to improve the system at a congressional hearing on the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona.  The shooter had a history of disturbing behavior and a drug arrest record, but passed a background check before buying the guns he used to kill six people and wound 13 others, including then-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords (D-AZ).

At that hearing in November, a coalition of 650 U.S. mayors released a 50-state analysis showing that millions of records barring dangerous individuals from buying guns are missing from the do-not-sell database.  The report by Mayors Against Illegal Guns – "Fatal Gaps: How Missing Records in the Federal Background Check System Put Guns in the Hands of Killers" – also identified factors that have helped some states successfully share their records with the federal database, including federal grants and laws that mandate reporting in some states.

Documents describing the contents of the database on April 30, 2012 show that the system remains dangerously incomplete.  Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have reported fewer than 100 mental health records, with 16 of those states reporting fewer than ten and three states reporting none at all.

Of the 61 federal agencies for which the FBI keeps data, 52 have not submitted mental health records to the NICS database.  In the last six months, only three federal agencies reported new mental health records: The Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Secret Service.  The VA was responsible for nearly 100 percent of federal records submitted in the past six months. 

Leaders of the bipartisan Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition urged Congress to pass the Fix Gun Checks Act (H.R.1781/S.436), which would increase incentives for states to comply with federal record reporting targets and require background checks for all gun sales.  They also applauded a House vote earlier this month approving $12 million in funding for NICS Act Record Improvement (NARIP) grants to help states improve their reporting.

"Around thirty-four Americans were killed with guns yesterday, and if our background check system were complete, many of them would be alive today," said New York City mayor and coalition co-chair Michael Bloomberg. "But some states are doing better, and with bipartisan support in Congress for giving states more resources, here's also reason for hope."

"The gun background check system remains dangerously incomplete and allows guns to be sold to the wrong people," said Boston mayor and coalition co-chair Thomas M. Menino. "Our country cannot risk another tragic shooting due to incomplete reporting.  That's exactly why every state and federal agency should be doing everything they can to submit records to the system.  We have a collective responsibility to fill the massive gaps in information and make sure that guns don't end up in the hands of killers – our public safety depends on it."

A Few States Dramatically Improved Their Performance in 2012

Since the Fatal Gaps report was issued, 35 states added more than 300,000 new mental health records to the NICS system, increasing the size of the database by 26 percent.  The vast majority of this growth – 88 percent – was driven by four states:  California, Oregon, Texas and Virginia.  Sixteen states failed to submit any new records during this period. 

States Receiving Federal Grants to Improve Reporting Achieved the Biggest Gains

Over the past two years, states that received federal NARIP grants have had the greatest success at improving record sharing.

The 14 states that received NARIP grants from 2009 to 2011 added 290,197 mental health records to NICS between March 31, 2010 and April 30, 2012.  The states submitting the most records were Texas (which added 170,009 mental health records), Virginia (which added 39,801) and Oregon (which added 25,062).  

Over that twenty-five month period, states with NARIP funding added an average of 238 records to the federal system per 100,000 residents.  States that did not receive grants added an average of 199 records per 100,000 residents. 

California, which has not received NARIP funding but recently changed their reporting criteria to include records they previously believed to be duplicates, added an exceptional 648 records per 100,000 residents during the last two years and was a statistical outlier.  Excluding California from the analysis, states without funding added 87 records per 100,000 residents, about one-third of the records added by states with federal funding.

In an unusual show of bipartisan support, the House recently approved $12 million to improve state record reporting, a sharp increase over previous years.  The Senate is expected to consider NICS funding when it debates the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill in the coming weeks. 

States Laws That Mandate Record Reporting Are Effective

State laws mandating or allowing mental health and drug abuse records to be shared with the federal database also significantly improve state performance.  Nine of the ten states that submit the most mental health records per 100,000 residents have adopted these laws or policies.  Only two of the ten states that submit records at the lowest rates have reporting laws.

States with reporting laws are improving faster than those without.  Over the last six months, states with laws requiring or permitting reporting of mental health records increased their per capita record reporting by 29 percent, while states without such laws increased per capita reporting by just 5 percent.

Virginia Governor, Firearms Manufacturers Support State Reporting to NICS

While progress on many issues remains frozen in Washington, the background check system enjoys broad, bipartisan support. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, recently urged his fellow governors to send NICS the most comprehensive data available on persons prohibited from purchasing guns.  The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for the firearms and ammunition industry, echoed Governor McDonnell's call for better record reporting to prevent guns from landing in the wrong hands. 

Full data can be found at: http://mayorsagainstillegalguns.org/downloads/pdf/NICSDataCharts2.pdf

SOURCE Mayors Against Illegal Guns