Senate Passes NICS Improvement Act, House Concurs
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
After months of careful negotiation, pro-gun legislation was
passed through Congress today. The National Rifle Association (NRA)
worked closely with Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to address his
concerns regarding H.R. 2640, the National Instant Check System
(NICS) Improvement Act. These changes make a good bill even better.
The end product is a win for American gun owners.
Late yesterday, anti-gun Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), failed to
delay progress of this pro-gun measure. The Violence Policy Center,
the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and other gun control and gun
ban groups are opposed to the passage of this legislation because
of the many pro-gun improvements contained within.
The NICS Improvement Act does the following to benefit gun
- Permanently prohibits the FBI from charging a "user fee" for
- Requires all federal agencies that impose mental health
adjudications or commitments to provide a process for "relief from
disabilities." Extreme anti-gun groups like the
Violence Policy Center and Coalition to Stop Gun Violence have
expressed "strong concerns" over this aspect of the bill-surely a
sign that it represents progress for gun ownership rights.
- Prevents reporting of mental adjudications or commitments by
federal agencies when those adjudications or commitments have been
- Requires removal of expired, incorrect or otherwise irrelevant
records. Today, totally innocent people (e.g., individuals with
arrest records, who were never convicted of the crime charged) are
sometimes subject to delayed or denied firearm purchases because of
incomplete records in the system.
- Provides a process of error correction if a person is
inappropriately committed or declared incompetent by a federal
agency. The individual would have an opportunity to correct the
error-either through the agency or in court.
- Prevents use of federal "adjudications" that consist only of
medical diagnoses without findings that the people involved are
dangerous or mentally incompetent. This would ensure that purely
medical records are never used in NICS. Gun ownership rights would
only be lost as a result of a finding that the person is a danger
to themselves or others, or lacks the capacity to manage his own
- Improves the accuracy and completeness of NICS by requiring
federal agencies and participating states to provide relevant
records to the FBI. For instance, it would give states an incentive
to report those who were adjudicated by a court to be "mentally
defective," a danger to themselves, a danger to others or
- Requires a Government Accountability Office audit of past NICS
The bill includes significant changes from the version that
previously passed the House, including:
- Requires incorrect or outdated records to be purged from the
system within 30 days after the Attorney General learns of the need
- Requires agencies to create "relief from disabilities" programs
within 120 days, to prevent bureaucratic foot-dragging.
- Provides that if a person applies for relief from disabilities
and the agency fails to act on the application within a year-for
any reason, including lack of funds-the applicant can seek
immediate review of his application in federal court.
- Allows awards of attorney's fees to applicants who successfully
challenge a federal agency's denial of relief in court.
- Requires that federal agencies notify all people being
subjected to a mental health "adjudication" or commitment process
about the consequences to their firearm ownership rights, and the
availability of future relief.
- Earmarks 3-10% of federal implementation grants for use in
operating state "relief from disabilities" programs.
- Elimination of all references to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
Firearms and Explosives regulations defining adjudications,
commitments, or determinations related to Americans' mental health.
Instead, the bill just uses the same terms as in the Gun Control
Act , thereby leaving interpretation of the terms to the courts
rather than to BATFE.
On Wednesday evening, by unanimous consent, the U.S.
House accepted the Senate amendment to H.R. 2640. The
legislation is headed to the President's desk for his
signature into law.
(Note: On Jan. 8, 2008, President Bush signed H.R. 2640