A bill aiming to improve military reporting of criminal records to the national gun background check system passed the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
The Fix NICS Act passed through the committee on a bipartisan 17-6 vote. The bill will now head to a full vote on the House floor. The committee said it expects a full vote in the coming weeks.
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The bill comes in the wake of the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The shooter in that case was able to pass FBI background checks and purchase firearms because the Air Force failed to share his disqualifying criminal records with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The shooting left 26 people dead.
Last week, two former special agents with the Defense Criminal Investigative Service told the Washington Free Beacon they had reported problems with record sharing between the military and the FBI decades ago but were ignored. A review of inspector general reports over the last 20 years backs their claim with the watchdog agency pointing out failures to share information as required by law in every military branch.
That's the problem the Fix NICS Act intends to address. The bill would implement a semi-annual reporting requirement for military branches to tell Congress and the public how well they've complied with reporting requirements and withhold bonuses from political appointees at agencies that don't meet reporting standards. It would also reward states that meet reporting goals with federal grant preferences and incentives.
Many of the ideas in the new bill mirror those in the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2017, which was passed in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting where the shooter's disqualifying records were also not shared with the FBI.
House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) said the new bill would further strengthen the system.
"The Fix NICS Act strengthens our nation’s existing laws by ensuring criminals are reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System," he said. "Tragically, our nation has all too often witnessed heinous acts of violence by criminals who should never have been able to purchase a firearm. We must ensure that both federal and state authorities are properly and accurately reporting criminals to NICS so that we prevent crime and protect lives."
Rep. John Culberson (R., Texas), who introduced the bill, said it was Congress's attempt to save lives.
"Had existing law been enforced, the terrible tragedy in Sutherland Springs, Texas, would have never occurred," Culberson said. "There is simply no excuse for the ongoing negligence of criminal history reporting into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). I’m greatly encouraged by this bipartisan effort to ensure federal and state authorities enforce existing law. I urge my colleagues in Congress to support this lifesaving piece of legislation."
The bill has enjoyed bipartisan support thus far as well as support from prominent gun-rights and gun-control organizations including the National Rifle Association.