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Senators introduce bipartisan deal on gun background checks

In a bipartisan effort to craft gun control reforms in the wake of numerous mass shooting events across the country, eight Senators have introduced new gun legislation that enhances state compliance and accuracy of existing background check systems in place for firearm purchases. 

Sens. John Cornyn R-Texas, Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, along with Senators Orrin Hatch R-Utuah, Dianne Feinstein, D-California, Dean Heller, R-Nevada, and Jeanne Shaheen D-New Hampshire, introduced the "Fix NICS Act" on Thursday to ensure federal and state authorities comply with existing law and accurately report relevant criminal history records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).  

"For years agencies and states haven't complied with the law, failing to upload these critical records without consequence," Sen. Cornyn said. 

He added, "Just one record that's not properly reported can lead to tragedy, as the country saw last week in Sutherland Springs, Texas. This bill aims to help fix what's become a nationwide, systemic problem so we can better prevent criminals and domestic abusers from obtaining firearms."

The U.S. Air Force had failed to submit the First Baptist Church shooter's criminal history, that is, his bad conduct discharge, to the FBI, as required by Pentagon rules. That history should have barred him from purchasing guns. The Air Force said it has launched a review of how the service handled Kelley's criminal records.

The bill also penalizes federal agencies who fail to properly report relevant records and incentivizes states to improve their overall reporting.  It also directs more federal funding to the accurate reporting of domestic violence records. 

Murphy had teased the rollout of the bill on Twitter Wednesday, hailing it as a "bipartisan breakthrough."

"This deal will strengthen the background check system and save lives. Our bill marks an important milestone that shows real compromise can be made on the issue of guns. I'm grateful that Senator Cornyn was such a strong partner and straightforward negotiator," said Sen. Murphy. 

Murphy, who has been a vocal critic of Congressional inaction on common sense gun reforms, said that much more needs ot be done, but the bipartisan bill represents the "strongest update to the background checks system in a decade, and provides the foundation for more compromise in the future."

Provisions under the bill would include: 

  • Requiring federal agencies and states to produce NICS implementation plans focused on uploading all information to the background check system showing that a person is prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms under current law—including measures to verify the accuracy of records;
  • Holding federal agencies accountable if they fail to upload relevant records to the background check system through public reporting and prohibiting bonus pay for political appointees;
  • Rewarding states that comply with their NICS implementation plans with federal grant preferences and incentives, while increasing accountability through public reporting for those who do not comply with their plans;
  • Reauthorizing and improving important law enforcement programs to help state governments share relevant criminal record information with NICS;
  • Creating a Domestic Abuse and Violence Prevention Initiative to ensure that states have adequate resources and incentives to share all relevant information with NICS showing that a felon or domestic abuser is excluded from purchasing firearms under current law.
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