Mayors Against Illegal Guns Report Shows State and Federal Failures Undermine U.S. Gun Background Check System and Put Guns in the Hands of Killers

Nov 15, 2011, 15:22 ET from Mayors Against Illegal Guns

First-of-its-Kind Survey of 50 States Concludes Lack of Leadership and Funding Keeps Critical Records about Dangerous People Out of National Do-Not-Sell Database

Survivors of Gun Violence Testify Before U.S. Senate and Rally in Support of Fix Gun Checks Act

NEW YORK, Nov. 15, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The bipartisan Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition today released a report showing that ten months after the deadly Tucson, Arizona shooting, states and federal agencies are still ignoring federal law and failing to report records about dangerous people to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.  The report was issued as victims of gun violence testified today before the Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism to support of the Fix Gun Checks Act – legislation that would close deadly gaps in the nation's do-not-sell database.

The report – "Fatal Gaps: How Missing Records in the Federal Background Check System Put Guns in the Hands of Killers" – analyzes newly released FBI data showing millions of records identifying seriously mentally ill people and drug abusers are missing from the NICS database because of lax state reporting.  The data also show that 52 of 61 federal agencies that are required to submit records have not done so.  

The 50-state analysis identifies which states are best and worst at reporting, and examines the strategies that have helped some states succeed. The report is available at  

"What we're asking for here today is simple and it could save so many lives," said coalition co-chair Mayor Bloomberg. "Americans – including most gun owners – want every gun sale to undergo a background check, but we need a system that works. I've always believed that if more legislators would just look into the eyes of people who have lost mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, they would begin to understand the terrible price our country pays when illegal guns are on the streets.  These flaws in our system need to be fixed now."

"For decades, mayors across the country have watched as innocent lives are taken on our streets because of illegal guns," said coalition co-chair and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. "This report reveals that most states and federal agencies are still failing to do the bare minimum to protect our communities. Congress must do more to get States and Federal agencies to submit records into the system. This common-sense effort will prevent murders committed with illegal guns, including those of the 31 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty this year by prohibited purchasers."

In 2007, Seung Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people at Virginia Tech before taking his own life. Two years earlier, a judge had found Cho to be mentally ill – a determination that should have barred him for life under Federal law from possessing a firearm.  The records documenting his profound mental illness were never sent in to the NICS background check system, and Cho passed several gun background checks in the months leading up to the mass shooting.

State Reporting to NICS

The number of state-submitted mental health records has increased since October, 2010 by 35% from 864,962 to 1,171,029.

Despite this improvement, the database is still far from complete. The report illustrates major failure by 23 states in submitting mental health records to the system, with 17 states reporting fewer than 10 records and four submitting none at all – Alaska, Delaware, Idaho and Rhode Island.  

The coalition's analysis of all 50 states identified two central conclusions: state laws mandating or allowing records to be shared with the federal database significantly improve state performance, as does federal funding:  

  • Nine of the ten states that submit the most mental health records per 100,000 residents have adopted laws or policies that mandate or permit the sharing of mental health records with NICS, while just two of the ten states that submit records at the lowest rates have such laws or policies.  
  • From August 31, 2010 to October 31, 2011, the nine states that received federal grant funding increased their rate of mental health record submission to an average of 142.3 records per 100,000 residents, compared to 78.8 records per 100,000 for the states without federal funding.

Overall, the report provides the most complete picture available of the circumstances surrounding the huge disparities in record submission between states.

Federal Reporting

A federal law passed after the Virginia Tech shooting required federal agencies to report relevant mental health and substance abuse records to the NICS database.  The coalition's report shows that the vast majority of federal agencies have not complied.

  • Fifty-two of 61 federal agencies listed in the FBI data obtained by Mayors Against Illegal Guns have reported zero mental health records to NICS.  
  • Fifty-nine of 61 federal agencies have submitted zero substance abuse records to the database, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Defense and the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps.

Some federal agencies may refuse to submit substance abuse reports as a matter of policy.  During the Clinton administration, then-Attorney General Janet Reno reportedly issued a policy directive exempting the Department of Defense from providing information about military recruits who failed drug tests. That policy has apparently remained in place.


To improve state and federal record submission to the NICS database, the Mayors Against Illegal Guns report urges the Department of Justice to take several critical steps, including enforcing existing law on federal agency reporting, issuing clear guidance to states about which mental health and drug abuse records must be submitted to the database and helping states qualify for federal grant funding.  

The coalition report also urges Congress to increase penalties for states that fail to comply and tie penalties to much more aggressive goals for record reporting. The Fix Gun Checks Act, S.436/H.R.1781, drafted by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition after the Tucson shooting and later introduced by Senator Charles E. Schumer and Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, would take steps to accomplish those goals. The report also urges Congress to increase federal funding for record sharing efforts.

About Mayors Against Illegal Guns

Since its inception in April 2006, Mayors Against Illegal Guns has grown from 15 mayors to more than 600 mayors from across the country. The bipartisan coalition has united the nation's mayors around these common goals: protecting their communities by holding gun offenders and irresponsible gun dealers accountable; demanding access to trace data that is critical to law enforcement efforts to combat illegal gun trafficking; and working with legislators to fix gaps, weaknesses and loopholes in the law that make it far too easy for criminals and other prohibited purchasers to get guns.

SOURCE Mayors Against Illegal Guns