- The Washington Times - Monday, December 31, 2018

Ten months after the Parkland school shooting and nine months after Congress acted, federal money is flowing to states to boost school security and new records are pouring in to the national background check system.

It’s unclear if either of those is making a difference yet.

States say the school safety money is welcome, particularly in Florida, site of the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Broward County Public Schools claimed $900,000, with the money going to develop a new threat assessment and to train teachers and students to look for signs of potential violence from pupils.

That’s also what the Sandy Hook Promise, an advocacy group formed after the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school shooting, is pushing for in the 15 states where it has partnered with school districts, looking to teach students and educators to spot warning signs of danger.

“I would have liked to have seen more applications for something other than just school security officers, but it’s a good thing those grants are going out,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat who has pushed for action after his home state was the scene of the Sandy Hook shooting.

Congress ponying up $70 million in the wake of last year’s latest school shooting was noteworthy, advocates said.

“I think the grants themselves are evidence that it’s working because they’re going out and they’re doing the things that they need to do to harden those targets,” said Rep. John Rutherford, Florida Republican. “I think every jurisdiction understands it.”

While working to harden schools against future attacks, Congress also took steps to try to flag more people who shouldn’t have weapons in the first place, passing legislation known as Fix NICS to add more records to the background check system.

That came after authorities said some of the culprits in recent high-profile mass shootings would have been disqualified from buying the weapons used but weren’t flagged by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

In the nine months since the legislation passed, the number of active records in NICS grew from 17.9 million to 19 million.

But the FBI cautioned against connecting the uptick to the legislation.

“The efforts of the states to make information available to the NICS are continuing,” Holly Morris, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services division, said in an email. “The NICS section cannot currently gauge if there has been a significant increase based on the passing of the legislation.”

Under the new law, federal agencies are supposed to provide regular updates to the attorney general’s office on their plans for making sure they’re shoring up their record systems, after several recent high-profile lapses.

The Pentagon’s inspector general recently concluded that the Air Force missed four chances to submit to the FBI the fingerprints of Devin Kelley, who shot and killed 26 people at a church in Texas last year after legally purchasing guns from several stores despite a disqualifying conviction.

The Department of Justice did not respond to questions about whether federal agencies have complied.

Mr. Rutherford said he had concerns that the federal agencies aren’t hitting the benchmarks on sharing information, as required by law.

“I think Florida’s done a good job with that,” he said. “I’m not sure about some of the other agencies — particularly, I think, some of the federal agencies. I’m hoping that that’s getting better. I haven’t seen any evidence of it yet. I mean, I haven’t looked.”

Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said it’s time for Congress to expand the number of sales covered by background checks. Currently, at the federal level, private transactions aren’t required to be put through NICS.

“Did Congress move in, frankly, the babiest of baby steps in the right direction?” she said. “Should we put more money into it to make sure it works? Yeah, that’s pretty much of a no-brainer. And that’s what they did. But not enough — we know that.”

Ms. Brown also said her group wants to see a system where agencies tasked with carrying out the laws are given proper training and resources to make sure things are working.

“That seems like a no-brainer, and much more needs to be done to ensure that that is actually happening,” she said. “The jury is out on how effectively it’s actually being implemented.”

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