- - Wednesday, February 28, 2018

In the wake of the Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland, Florida, Congress is revisiting gun control. One bill under consideration is the Cornyn-Murphy-Feinstein “Fix NICS” bill, which purports to strengthen the federal government’s background check system for purposes of purchasing a firearm. But upon close examination, “Fix NICS,” in its current state, does not fix the problem at all — in fact, it exacerbates existing problems and creates plenty of new ones.

For decades, Congress has been grappling with the question of who should be prohibited from obtaining firearms. Often lost in the discussion, however, is the fact that current federal law already prohibits the sale of firearms to felons, “mental defectives,” illegal aliens, and a number of other categories of criminals and potentially dangerous individuals.

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 mandated the creation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which the FBI developed in partnership with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Federal government agencies and state and local officials are able to send information to the FBI for inclusion in the database, so firearms dealers can easily access information about individuals who are prohibited by federal law from purchasing or owning a firearm.

But the system is far from perfect.

Back in April 2016, Devin Kelley — the mass shooter in the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting that took place last November — was able to purchase a Ruger AR-556 rifle in San Antonio, which he later used to kill 26 people. Despite the fact that Kelley, a former Air Force logistics officer, was convicted by a court martial in 2012 of two counts of assault (against his wife and child), the background check failed to raise any red flags. His punishment was 12 months of confinement and a bad-conduct discharge from the military. For both of those reasons, he would have been prohibited by federal law from purchasing or owning a firearm. And yet the NICS database contained none of that information.

The Texas church massacre is the reason for today’s debate over gun control. Texas Sen. John Cornyn introduced the “Fix NICS” bill in response to the shooting that had occurred in his home state.

Mr. Cornyn’s bill attempts to expand the effectiveness of the background search database, and the bill includes additional funding for states as an incentive to turn over names of individuals for the database.

Seems like a good idea, right? Well, not exactly.

Many of those whose “information” would be sent to the federally-maintained database would include people who should not be deprived of their Second Amendment right. Consider, for example, a person who is guilty of an unpaid speeding ticket. According to this bill, that person would be a “fugitive” of the law, and unable to purchase a firearm.

As a Second Amendment advocate, I have other concerns about “Fix NICS,” as well.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley has pointed out one particularly alarming fact about the database— it has turned into an all-too-efficient way of erasing veterans’ Second Amendment rights. As he notes: “Roughly 99 percent of all names submitted to the list’s ‘mental defective’ category [by the federal government] were reported by the [Veterans Affairs Department].”

The most serious concern with “Fix NICS” is that it would severely undermine individuals’ due process rights. Individuals can be deprived of their constitutional right to own a firearm without their knowledge, without a court date, and without a conviction. The deprivation of due process is a slippery slope, and raises questions about other constitutionally-protected rights that could be summarily violated by the federal government.

Beyond the specific problems of “Fix NICS,” there are also the broader problems with gun-control legislation in general.

The reality is that gun-control laws are not merely ineffective, they’re also often counter-productive. Close to 99 percent of all mass shootings since 1950 have occurred in “gun-free zones,” according to the Crime Prevention Research Center. And the Gun-Free School Zones Act has had devastating effects, turning schools into easy targets for the mentally ill with homicidal plans.

The Valentine’s Day school shooting in Florida showcased government incompetence at its worst — and at all levels, from the FBI’s decision to ignore numerous warning calls about Nikolas Cruz, to the local police officials who concluded after 39 visits with Cruz that he was “mentally ill,” but still did nothing, to the school resource officers who refused to engage Cruz while he was on his shooting rampage.

In true Washington fashion, “Fix NICS” would not actually fix our nation’s gun violence problems; Instead, it would expand the government’s background-check database (to include many law-abiding citizens), erode the Second Amendment, and deny due process to countless Americans.

Americans are ready for thoughtful discussion on how to solve gun violence in our country, and how to improve government responses to warning signs. In the meantime, Congress should avoid the temptation for a knee-jerk vote for Fix NICS in its current state.

Government failures, no matter how profound or consequential, should never be an excuse for stripping away Americans’ constitutional rights.


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