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June 3, 2013

A Gap in President Obama’s Memo

President Obama is making headlines today with a six-page memo outlining what other groups are doing to help address the serious mental illness challenges our country faces. One program missing on his list is the firearms and ammunition industry’s “FixNICS” campaign to keep firearms out of the hands of prohibited persons like the shooter in the Virginia Tech tragedy that was able to purchase a firearm from a federally licensed firearms retailer because his prohibiting mental health records were not in the NICS system.

We all share the goal of trying to make our communities safer. Too often, politicians propose “quick fix” solutions that won’t actually make a difference, just to check the box so they can say they’re “doing something.” The FixNICS campaign, however, is different. Federally licensed firearms retailers rely on the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to make sure they aren’t selling a firearm to someone who is prohibited by law from possessing a firearm.

Of course, a background check is only as good as the records in the database. FBI NICS databases are currently incomplete because far too many states have not provided all records that establish someone is prohibited from owning a firearm under current law, especially including mental health adjudications and involuntary commitments orders. Including these missing records will help ensure more accurate and complete background checks.

Our goal for FixNICS is to encourage states to report to NICS all records that establish someone is prohibited from owning a firearm under current law. Through a multi-state effort focused on forming coalitions in the states with the fewest submitted records, the industry is dedicating significant resources to helping states overcome the legal, technological, and intrastate coordination challenges preventing effective record sharing. Our industry believes this is one area where common ground can be found.

If the president is looking for an effective solution in a time of challenges, we encourage him to visit and learn more about this campaign.

Larry Keane is senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @lkeane.

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