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March 28, 2013

Department of Justice NICS Grants: 1825 Days Late, $803 Million Dollars Short


We’ve all heard the old phrase, “a day late and a dollar short.” When we’re talking about the federal government, the numbers climb much higher.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced that it will be allocating $20 million in grants to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The announcement comes a full five fiscal years after appropriations began to implement the NICS Improvement Amendments of 2007, a law passed by Congress with support from all sides in the gun-control debate, including the gun industry. It was intended to facilitate improvements in the NICS database, primarily by adding records dealing with mental health disqualifications.

In the fiscal years 2009-2013, Congress “authorized” the expenditure of $875 million dollars to implement the improvements. But government spending is a two-step dance, and Congress must also “appropriate” funds before they can be spent.  Of the $875 million in authorized expenditures, only $51.5 million was actually “appropriated” – less than 6 percent of the total.

So when you subtract $51.5 million from $875 million, then also subtract the new $20 million in grants, you end up at more than $803 million – the missing dollars that were supposed to go into improving NICS for the past five years. To complete the calculation, 365 days times five equals 1,825, hence our headline.

That’s why the firearms industry is rallying now to “Fix NICS,” the name of our campaign. We support passage of S. 480 sponsored by Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) which would precisely define the specific types of mental health issues that are considered disqualifications under federal law and eliminate the nebulous term “mental defective” from current regulations. We also support legislation to force states into making the necessary reporting improvements to NICS, by withholding federal grants if necessary. And we will take our lobbyists into the states if we need to, to make the necessary changes on the ground ourselves.

We hope  that Congress will take the lead in this effort, and indeed the scope of work involved in the “Fix NICS” campaign will depend greatly on what the Congress does in the upcoming weeks. But we know that politicians who propose mandating so-called “universal background checks” are proposing to overburden a system that is already overwhelmed and operating with substantial deficiencies. That’s just one of the reasons that NSSF opposes these proposals. If you need more, the Department of Justice has $803 million.

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