A bipartisan team of senators introduced a proposal this week to alert state authorities every time a gun buyer fails a background check.
The NICS Denial Notification Act — sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey and Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons — creates an alert system in 37 states and Washington, D.C., where firearms dealers use the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System to verify a gun buyer’s identity and eligibility status.
Thirteen point-of-contact states already notify local authorities when a prohibited person “lies and tries” to buy a gun. Toomey said this bill will require the FBI to do the same in states without their own background check processing systems within 24 hours of each denial.
“We can make progress on gun safety while respecting the Second Amendment rights of American citizens, including better enforcing existing gun laws and responding to warning signs that we get of criminal behavior,” he said in a statement. “This bipartisan bill is a critical step forward in helping to ensure that our communities can be safe from criminals.”
Coons said the bill will make communities safer and hopes its part of a larger effort to “comprehensively address gun violence.”
“We have to find ways to work across the aisle to reduce gun violence, and the NICS Denial Notification Act is one modest, commonsense way to do that,” he said.
Florida Sens. Marco Rubio, a Republican, and Bill Nelson, a Democrat, also signed onto the legislation this week. The two Florida lawmakers appeared at a CNN Town Hall last month with survivors of the Parkland shooting, fielding questions and discussing the merits of stricter gun regulations.
“While we work to ensure that our background check system contains the critical information necessary to be able to conduct an effective background check, we must also ensure that federal and state authorities are successfully communicating with one another when it comes to dangerous individuals and their attempts to acquire firearms,” Rubio said, adding the measure would require federal authorities to flag denials for state authorities or hold federal officials accountable if they aren’t.
While Rubio shot down an “assault weapons” ban last month, he expressed support for banning rifle sales to anyone under 21, strengthening the federal background check system, enacting gun violence protection orders and reconsidering his stance on high-capacity magazines. He vowed to work with Nelson and other Democrats to pass regulations with bipartisan support in the Senate.
Nelson remains supportive of universal background checks and “a comprehensive assault weapons ban.” He said Monday the NICS Denial Notification Act serves as “another commonsense way” to prevent gun-related violence.
“Efforts to reduce gun violence are only as good as the systems in place to prevent prohibited individuals from obtaining guns,” he said. “I hope we can continue this conversation and continue to work together on comprehensive gun reform.”
The proposal also mandates the Department of Justice release an annual report detailing prosecutions of background check denial cases.
Since 1998, NICS has denied more than 3 million potential buyers. Some 40 percent of those represented convicted felons, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The center joined Everytown for Gun Safety and six law enforcement and domestic violence organizations in endorsing the proposal Monday.
“Ensuring that state and local law enforcement have all of the necessary information about who in their communities is attempting to purchase firearms unlawfully is critical for public safety,” said Robin Lloyd, Director of Government Affairs at Giffords, in a statement. “The attempted purchase of firearms by a prohibited person is a potential violation of federal and state laws, and this bill will provide the information necessary for the enforcement of these laws.”
“When a domestic abuser or convicted felon tries to buy a gun and fails a background check, it’s a crime and a warning sign for law enforcement,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown, in a statement. “Under this bill, state law enforcement would be notified when a criminal tries to buy a gun, and given the information they need to help prevent the next crime from happening. We applaud Senators Toomey and Coons for introducing this bipartisan bill.”
The NICS Denial Notification Act has also earned co-signatures from Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, of Texas, Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democractic Sens. Tammy Duckworth, of Illinois, and Claire McCaskill, Missouri.