Attorney General Jeff Sessions has directed the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to look at the gaps in the federal background check system for guns and report back in 60 days.
The review of the National Instant Background Check System comes on the heels of the Sutherland Springs, Texas, shooting earlier this month that left more than two dozen churchgoers dead. The Air Force said it failed to follow policies for alerting the FBI about the domestic violence conviction of the shooter, Devin Kelley.
His conviction was not entered into the background check system, more commonly known as NICS, and he was allowed to buy firearms.
NICS is “critically important” to protecting Americans from gun violence, Sessions said in the Wednesday memo, and it is also “critical for us to be able to keep guns out of the hands of those […] prohibited from owning them.”
Sessions directed the FBI and ATF to:
- Work with the Department of Defense to identify and resolve any issues with the military’s reporting of convictions and other relevant information to determine if someone can buy a firearm
- Review if any other federal agencies are “not fully and accurately” reporting information to NICS
- Review the official form (known as ATF Form 4473) used by the ATF that someone purchasing a firearm from a federally licensed firearm holder (such as a gun shop) fills out, and recommend any necessary changes
- Identify any additional measures that should be taken to prevent a prohibited person from getting a firearm
- Prepare a report that addresses:
- The number of current open investigations for making a false statement on ATF Form 4473
- The number of investigations for making a false statement on ATF Form 4473 from the past five years
- The number of current year recommendations for prosecution and the number of current year recommendations for declination for making a false statement on ATF Form 4473
- The number of recommendations for prosecution and the number of recommendations for declination for making a false statement on ATF Form 4473 from the past five years
- What level of priority gets assigned to an investigation for false statements made on ATF Form 4473
NICS was created in 1998, and since then the FBI has processed more than 253 million background checks. From Jan. 1 to Oct. 31, 20.2 million background checks were initiated through NICS, according to government statistics.
In 2016, 120,000 people were denied by the NICS, government statistics show. The main reason for these denials, impacting 50,000 people, was due to a crime conviction. Another 8,900 were denied because of a domestic violence conviction in 2016.
Earlier this month, the Washington Examiner reported a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers proposed new legislation aimed at improving the accuracy of background check data given to NICS.