McCarthy pushes for NICS improvements

Proposed legislation would provide $750M to states

In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., is promoting her legislation to make improvements to a national database used to check potential gun buyers for criminal records or histories of mental illness.

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Improvement Act, HR 297, would make $750 million to state agencies through 2010 to improve their ability to automate their information and transmit it to the national database.

McCarthy, whose husband was killed and son wounded by a mentally ill gunman on the Long Island Railroad in 1993, has been a strong proponent of gun control. She said the new bill is intended to close loopholes in existing laws.

For example, while felony convictions are supposed to be reported to the database, that is not happening in 25 states that have not yet automated those processes, McCarthy said.

In addition, 33 states have not automated or do not share mental health records that would disqualify certain individuals from a gun purchase. And domestic violence restraining orders should be accessible in the database, but currently are not, McCarthy said.

The bill establishes a nationwide grant program to help state law enforcement agencies and courts automate and transmit records for inclusion in the database.

"While maintaining NICS records ultimately is the responsibility of the states, state budgets are already overburdened," McCarthy said in the news release. "The NICS Improvement Act will give states the resources to eliminate the legal loopholes that allow prohibited individuals from legally purchasing firearms."

Similar legislation submitted by McCarthy passed the House in the 107th Congress via voice vote.

Since it was created in 1994, the database has resulted in 700,000 individuals denied the purchase of a firearm due to failing a criminal background check. Since the Virginia Tech campus shootings, there has been speculation about what actions might have prevented the tragedy.

Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho went on a shooting rampage April 16 in which he killed 32 people and himself. Though described by some experts as mentally ill before the shooting, he was not disqualified from buying firearms.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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