New bill would alert police if those with a record attempt gun buy

A bipartisan measure proposed in the House this week would inform state and local police and prosecutors when an individual prohibited from possessing a firearm tries to buy one.

Introduced as H.R. 4471 by U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, R-Pa., and U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., the NICS Denial Notification Act is a rehash of a bill proposed last session that failed to leave committee. The legislation would direct federal regulators to notify both state and local authorities in cases where a potential gun buyer is denied a transfer after a background check.

“When a felon or otherwise-prohibited person is trying to obtain a gun, that’s something law enforcement should be aware of – it may be an indication of plans for a future crime,” said Meehan in a statement. “This is a common-sense step we can take to help our law enforcement personnel prevent gun crimes before they happen.”

The bill would establish a mechanism where the federal government would report to local authorities information about those who were denied a firearm through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, so that potential state charges can be pursued.

Since 1998, NICS had issued over 1.4 million denials for reasons ranging from criminal convictions to mental health reasons and dishonorable discharges from the military. However, few of those denials turn into prosecutions. A 2016 audit by the Department of Justice found that the number of NICS denial prosecutions has dropped substantially since 2003 when 166 individuals were considered for prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The audit found that over an eight-year period from 2008 to 2015, authorities referred just 509 NICS denials for prosecution, of which only about half were pursued as criminal cases.

Further, a number of errors over the years have led to instances where those who were not prohibited possessors were repeatedly denied firearms transfers, resulting in those denied their firearms rights having to sue the government to correct their record.

Meehan’s measure has the backing of gun control advocates, namely Everytown, as well as police lobby groups.

“Tragically, recent events have showed us that Federal agencies and State governments have too often failed to upload all relevant information to the NICS, allowing the illegal sale of a firearm,” said Chuck Canterbury, national president of Fraternal Order of Police. “This legislation will give the critical information State and local agencies need to work and develop cases against these individuals, many of whom may be dangerous felons or domestic abusers.”

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.