Police in Vermont say they can’t conduct mandated background checks required by a new law on private gun sales. The Department of Public Safety last month told lawmakers they are not allowed to access the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System used to vet gun transfers by licensed firearm dealers.
Signed by Vermont Gov. Phil Scott last year among a spate of gun control laws, Act 94 requires virtually all gun transfers, including those between private parties, to first clear a background check. The problem is that Vermont is one of 36 states and territories that do not have a “point of contact” access to NICS, forcing them to rely on the FBI for all firearm background checks performed in the state. While federal firearms license holders can run their checks through the system, the state cannot.
Citing that their own state-level database provides a limited pool to research, Deputy DPS Commissioner Christopher Herrick told lawmakers his agency, “cannot recommend that law enforcement serve as an alternative to FFLs to facilitate person-to-person firearms transfers,” until federal regulations are expanded to allow access to NICS.
“In multiple phone calls with the FBI, and reviewing federal law and regulation, it became clear that we would not be authorized to have access to the full range of databases that are performed on a normal background check for a gun purchase,” Herrick told Vermont Public Radio.
Meanwhile, the law itself is under legal challenge from gun rights advocates who argue it is not only unconstitutional but also adds unjustified costs and inconvenience to a transfer as well as produces concerns over privacy.
Vermont’s misfire on universal background checks is not unique. In Nevada, the $20 million Question 1 ballot initiative funded in large part by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was narrowly approved by voters in 2016 only to have officials later deem it unenforceable over the way the state accesses NICS.