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Senators Announce New Bipartisan Gun Safety Legislation

NICS Denial Notification Act creates an alert system to share information with state law enforcement officials

March 5, 2018
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Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) announced new gun safety legislation that will assist states with enforcing existing laws against individuals who attempt to purchase firearms but have no legal right to do so. The NICS Denial Notification Act requires federal authorities to alert state law enforcement within 24 hours when individuals "lie and try" to purchase firearms, which can be a warning sign of criminal behavior. The legislation is also co-sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

Federal officials are notified when individuals who are legally prohibited from purchasing a firearm (such as convicted felons, fugitives, and domestic abusers) try to buy a gun but fail a National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) background check. These attempted purchases often violate federal and state laws. Unfortunately, the federal government rarely prosecutes any of these individuals.

In the 13 states that run their own background checks using the FBI's NICS system, state authorities are aware when prohibited persons fail background checks and can have state law enforcement investigate these cases. However, in the 37 states and the District of Columbia that rely on the FBI to run some or all of their background checks, state authorities generally are not aware when prohibited persons fail background checks run by the FBI. Individuals who are willing to "lie and try" to buy a gun may be dangerous and willing to obtain guns through other means. As a result, these states and D.C. lack critical law enforcement intelligence that they could use to try to keep their communities safe.

"This NICS Denial Notification Act requires the FBI to notify state law enforcement within 24 hours when a person who is prohibited from getting a gun, such as convicted felon, lies about their background in an attempt to buy one. That is, in itself, a federal felony and it goes almost entirely unprosecuted now," said Senator Toomey. "We can make progress on gun safety while respecting the Second Amendment rights of American citizens, including better enforcing existing gun laws and responding to warning signs that we get of criminal behavior. This bipartisan bill is a critical step forward in helping to ensure that our communities can be safe from criminals."

"We have to find ways to work across the aisle to reduce gun violence, and the NICS Denial Notification Act is one modest, commonsense way to do that," said Senator Coons. "By ensuring that state and federal law enforcement are working together to prevent those who shouldn't be able to buy a gun from getting one, we can make our communities safer. I'm hopeful this legislation can be part of Congress's efforts to comprehensively address gun violence."

"The Parkland shooter was able to carry out this horrific attack because of multi-systematic failures. While we work to ensure that our background check system contains the critical information necessary to be able to conduct an effective background check, we must also ensure that federal and state authorities are successfully communicating with one another when it comes to dangerous individuals and their attempts to acquire firearms," said Senator Rubio. "The NICS Denial Notification Act would not only require federal authorities to flag background check denials for state-level authorities, it would also hold these federal officials accountable. This would be a strong step forward in preventing future tragedies. I urge my colleagues to immediately support this bipartisan legislation so that the president can swiftly sign it into law."

"Efforts to reduce gun violence are only as good as the systems in place to prevent prohibited individuals from obtaining guns," said Senator Nelson. "This bill is just another commonsense way to further those efforts to keep our communities safe from gun violence. I hope we can continue this conversation and continue to work together on comprehensive gun reform."

About the NICS Denial Notification Act:

• Requires federal authorities to alert state law enforcement of background checks denials, so that state authorities can decide whether to investigate, prosecute, and/or keep an eye on these denied individuals for signs of future criminal activity.
• Requires DOJ to publish an annual report with statistics about its prosecution of background check denial cases, so Congress and voters can hold federal officials accountable.
• Endorsed by: Fraternal Order of Police; Major Cities Chiefs Police Association; Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association; National District Attorneys Association; National Domestic Violence Hotline; National Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Everytown for Gun Safety; Giffords