Weeks before the twentieth anniversary of the law that requires gun buyers to pass background checks conducted by licensed firearm dealers, many states are still failing to share data about people who are barred from owning firearms because they are seriously mentally ill with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), according to the latest information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. These record-sharing failures leave dangerous gaps in the database designed to keep firearms from the wrong hands. According to the data, fifteen states have reported fewer than 100 records over the last twenty years.
The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton on November 30, 1993, requires that individuals pass a background check before purchasing a firearm from a federally licensed dealer. Once a purchaser receives approval from NICS, the sale can proceed – a process that typically takes 90 seconds or less. But two decades since the system was established, the database at its core still lacks the necessary records to ensure that individuals barred from possessing firearms are blocked.
Today, based on the latest available FBI data, Mayors Against Illegal Guns updated its online Fatal Gaps map of the United States showing how each state is doing, or not doing, its part to report mental health records and make sure guns cannot be purchased by felons, domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill and others who are prohibited by current law from owning firearms. Data released last month by the FBI, reflecting record submissions as of May 2013, show that NICS remains dangerously incomplete. While more than one million additional records were sent to the database between October 31, 2012 and May 31, 2013, 87 percent of that data was submitted by just two states – Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
“The Brady Bill was a major step toward keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and other dangerous individuals, but we still have much more work to do to fulfill its purpose,” said Mayors Against Illegal Guns Co-Chair and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “Thirty-three Americans are murdered with guns every day, and all too often the people pulling the trigger were able to buy their weapons because of the gaps in our background check system, including critically important missing data. For the background check system to work as the law intends, these gaps must be closed.”
“Twenty years after the signing of the Brady Bill, our background check system continues to allow guns to be sold to individuals who have been deemed a danger to themselves or others,” said Boston Mayor and Coalition Co-Chair Thomas M. Menino. “Every state and federal agency should be doing everything they can to submit mental health records to the system so we can prevent senseless tragedies. The safety of our communities depends on it.”
State Mental Health Record Submissions, By the Numbers
- The following states have reported less than 100 mental health records to NICS since the inception of the database: Alaska, Maryland, Nebraska, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.
- The largest increases in records per 100,000 residents since October 2012 were in:
- Pennsylvania: +5,154
- New Jersey: +3,385
- Utah: +236
- Florida: +212
- Maine: +141
- A few states also stood out with large percent increases in mental health record submissions over their previous total:
- Florida: 49,903 → 90,824 (+82%)
- Iowa: 4,639 → 7,434 (+60%)
- Kentucky: 3,224 → 5,158 (+60%)
- Illinois: 25,477 → 37,006 (+45%)
- Minnesota: 7,815 → 10,116 (+29%)
How To Fix NICS: Federal Grants and State Record Reporting Laws
In states that lead the nation in mental health record submissions to NICS, two reforms have been vitally important: federal grants to improve reporting, and state laws that require state agencies to report. In 2008, Congress created the NICS Act Record Improvement Program (NARIP) to provide grants to states to improve collection and submission of relevant records to NICS. Congress has not fully funded the program and only eighteen states have qualified for grants since it began, but the states that sought and received NARIP grants were more likely to make significant improvements in their record-sharing in subsequent years.
- Of the top-performing 15 states, nine (60%) received NARIP funding between 2009 and 2012.
- In contrast, only two of the 15 (13%) poorest performing states received NARIP grants during that period.
In addition, states that have laws or policies that explicitly require or permit state agencies to share relevant mental health records with the NICS database submit records at much higher rates.
- Of the top 15 performing states, 14 (93%) have enacted laws that authorize the state police, courts, or other agencies to share relevant mental health records with NICS (all except Michigan).
- Of the bottom 15 performing states, only two (13%) had laws requiring or permitting reporting (Nebraska and North Dakota).