Press Release

In Wake of Texas Tragedy, Giffords Releases Framework for Congress to Strengthen Background Check System

Framework Recommends Effective Solutions to Keep Guns out of Dangerous Hands

November 14, 2017— Today, Giffords released a legislative framework that Congress should pass to ensure that the nation’s background check system more effectively keeps guns out of dangerous hands. The policy solutions are in response to the discovery that the mass shooter in Sutherland Springs was able to buy a gun after the Air Force failed to enter his domestic violence court martial in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

Giffords – the gun violence organization founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, combat veteran and retired NASA astronaut, Captain Mark Kelly – are calling on Congress to strengthen reporting to the background check system for both state and federal agencies while closing loopholes in the background check system itself.

“It’s illegal for anyone who is a domestic abuser to walk into a store and buy a weapon,” said Robin Lloyd, Giffords Director of Government Affairs. “But the mass shooting in Texas revealed that we have much to do to keep our communities safe from these threats. Congress can and should act to better protect American communities from gun violence. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said that we should do more to prevent the next Sutherland Springs tragedy. It’s time for members of Congress to have courage and act, instead of staying silent.”

Recent revelations revealed lapses in reporting records to the system. A 2015 Department of Defense report found that, over a 28-month period, the Air Force failed to provide the proper information in 32 percent of qualifying offenses, including both felonies (for the military equivalent of felonies) and domestic violence. The report found similar failures by the Navy and Marine Corps.

The full framework is available here.

The legislative framework focuses on four key areas:

  • Ensure that federal agencies report all prohibited individuals to NICS. Legislation should ensure that federal agencies like the Department of Defense are appropriately reporting records to NICS. That includes providing full accounting that the complete records of individuals prohibited from purchasing firearms, including domestic abusers and felons, are included in the background system. Other federal agencies are subject to the same obligation to report records to NICS as the Department of Defense, but it is unclear to what extent these obligations are being fulfilled throughout the federal government. Congress should maintain proper oversight of these agencies to ensure that all records are being submitted.

  • Incentivize states to properly report convicted abusers and other prohibited individuals to NICS. Many states have not yet created protocols to distinguish misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from other misdemeanor convictions in their records. Similarly, many states do not provide sufficient information to NICS about domestic violence protective orders. Without this information, NICS cannot readily identify whether a conviction or protective order disqualifies the person from possessing a gun–meaning the domestic abusers can still pass a NICS background check. Reps. Ryan Costello (R-PA) and Kathleen Rice (D-NY) recently introduced the H.R. 4183, the Domestic Violence Records Reporting Improvement Act, that addresses the lack of reporting of domestic violence records. Domestic violence records are not the only state criminal history records missing from NICS. Congress can also increase the overall funding available to states for the improvement of their reporting systems, and reward states for continuing to make progress in meeting benchmarks for improving their reporting.

  • Close Domestic Violence Loopholes. Building on a more complete background check system, legislation introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in the Senate as the Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act (S. 1539) and by Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Dan Donovan (R-NY) in the House as the Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act (H.R. 3207), seeks to close loopholes in federal gun prohibitors that allow violent abusers to continually access guns. It would ensure that abusers in non-cohabitating relationships currently left out of the law could not legally access firearms. As stalking is a strong indicator of future violence against women, any person convicted of a stalking crime should be prohibited from accessing guns.

  • Background check requirements. Under federal law, only licensed firearms dealers are required to conduct background checks on gun buyers. Unlicensed “private” sellers are not.  Consequently, between 20 and 40% of gun sales and transfers occur without a background check. A background check should be conducted for the vast majority of gun sales, including sales conducted by unlicensed sellers. Senator Chris Murphy has introduced S.2009, “The Background Check Expansion Act,” which would require a background check for every sale or transfer of a firearm. Similarly, H.R. 4240, introduced by Representatives Peter King and Mike Thompson in the House as“The Public Safety and Second Amendment Protection Act,”  would extend the background check requirement to gun sales at gun shows, and gun sales through an advertisement or listing online or in a publication. It would also provide states with funding for reporting to NICS subject to certain conditions.