National Background Check

Trends Affecting the National Instant Background Check System

The National Instant Background Check System (NICS) compiles information from many sources including federal, state, and local criminal records checks and governmental mental health services. This comprehensive information is used to make decisions about whether federally licensed dealers can sell firearms to applicants.

The NICS system only applies to federal dealers and does not affect private sales. The individual states make laws regarding private sales and may or may not require NICS checks. National trends have favored expanding the rights to carry private firearms all over the country.

Unprecedented Change in Public Attitude

The Gallup Poll has detected a major shift in the opinions of Americans, according to the information compiled at Gallup. Recent polling shows that fewer Americans support handgun bans than ever before, since the modern science of polling started taking the pulse of consumer opinions.

Only 26% of respondents favor handgun bans, a major change in the last 20 years. In 1991, a majority of people in all major demographic groups supported banning handguns. When Gallup first posed this question back in 1959, 60% favored a ban. This attitude adjustment might well influence NICS monitoring trends.

Influence of The Virginia Tech Shootings

The mass shootings on the Virginia Tech campus by a mentally troubled student, Seung-Hui Cho, have changed how mental health staff views their responsibilities of reporting incidents. Cho demonstrated signs of serious mental illness to counselors, but he was able to buy weapons used in the killing spree.

The state supplies information on patients ordered to undergo counseling by courts to NICS, but it had no mandate to do so for voluntary outpatient treatments. The killings changed that policy, and state mental health services must now submit information about people considered risks.

Many states have not developed sufficient digital capabilities, security protocols, and infrastructure to handle these types of notifications efficiently. The U.S. House of Representatives recently authorized $12 million in federal grants to help states comply with NICS requirements.

The funding enjoyed considerable bipartisan support in the wake of several high-profile killings by mentally troubled shooters. The measure even enjoyed support from Virginia’s conservative Republican Governor Bob McDonnell who personally lobbied legislators in support of the funding initiative.

States Show Poor Records of Submitting Mental Health Records

Compliance for submitting records of people who should be proscribed from buying guns has gained ground slowly. The law requires federal and state agencies to submit this information to NICS, but many agencies have been slow to comply, according to statistics compiled by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns organization’s report.

An overwhelming majority of 52 out of 61 federal agencies have submitted no mental health alerts to NICS. Only three agencies have submitted drug abuse records. The states have not done much better, and 23 states and the District of Columbia have presented fewer than 100 records to update the NICS database.

The disturbing trend sets the stage for another catastrophic disaster. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has sent letters urging the nation’s governors to increase compliance to generate better background checks that will deny mentally unstable people the means to purchase weapons or explosive materials.

Past appropriations have included $17 million in state grants to agencies to upgrade the accessibility and quality of records. Only 16 states have met the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearm’s criteria to qualify for grant assistance. Apparently, the previous grants did little to improve the reporting situation, and American public opinion and legislative trends could share the blame.

Trends Favor Gun Ownership Expansion

National trends favor an increase in gun ownership and carrying rights. The year 2011 set records for gun sales, and 2012 seems poised to surpass those figures.

Ohio and Kansas have passed laws allowing greater access to weapons. The Ohio general Assembly has approved laws allowing people with concealed weapons permits to carry guns inside establishments serving alcohol. Kansas has voted to expand the ability to obtain a concealed weapons license, adding to the 40,000 permits already granted.

Despite these trends, most Americans do not favor granting gun licenses to mentally unstable individuals. NICS background check protocols offer the only option for denying weapons to dangerously unstable people. The outcome of better compliance at the federal and state level should be reduced incidences of killings and suicides by gun. The public’s response seems to favor additional weapons for self-protection.