On Nov. 14, 2019, the Attorney General published and submitted to Congress the first semiannual report on the Fix NICS Act. The report, required by the Fix NICS Act passed by Congress in March 2018, reflects strong compliance with the Act and demonstrates renewed efforts at all levels of government to improve the sharing of records and information that are vital to the effective operation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
“An effective NICS system is critical to ensuring that we keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “I am encouraged by the results of this initial report. Fix NICS implementation is still in its infancy, yet already we’re seeing great strides being made across government – state, tribal, and federal law enforcement – to strengthen the NICS. Given the preliminary data, it is clear that the Fix NICS Act is well on its way to doing exactly what it was intended to do – make the NICS better.”
The NICS is a computerized system designed to help determine if a person is disqualified from possessing or receiving firearms by conducting a search of available relevant records. The databases searched by the NICS contain records with information relevant to the legal prohibitions against firearm possession and purchasing under both federal and state law. To function effectively, the NICS must have access to complete, accurate, and timely information submitted by relevant agencies in all levels of government across the country.
The 2018 Fix NICS Act was passed to encourage government agencies to improve their records submission processes and further strengthen the NICS. Under the Fix NICS Act:
- Federal agencies:
- must report certain record submission metrics to the Attorney General in semiannual certifications; and
- must establish four-year implementation plans to improve records submissions.
- States and tribal governments:
- are incentivized with grant preferences to establish four-year implementation plans.
- The Attorney General:
- must publish and submit to Congress a semiannual report on federal agency compliance with the Act; and
- must determine whether federal agencies, states, and Indian tribal governments have achieved substantial compliance with the benchmarks set out in their implementation plans.
- 45 federal agencies submitted certifications and implementation plans
- All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Indian tribal governments established implementation plans and
- Another 44 federal agencies certified they do not have any relevant records
The efforts by federal agencies, states, and Indian tribal governments under the Act are already paying off. Between April 2018 and August 2019:
- There was an increase of over six million records in the three national databases searched with every NICS check—a 6.2 percent increase. In addition, there was a 15 percent increase in records in one of those databases, the NICS Indices.
- The number of Firearm Retrieval Referrals (FRRs) (where a prohibited person is able to purchase a firearm because the background check could not be concluded within three business days due to incomplete records) decreased each month in comparison to the same month during the previous year, for an average monthly decline of 102 FRRs.
- With the exception of June 2018, there was an increase in the percentage of NICS checks resulting in an immediate determination (not requiring a delay for further research) compared to the previous year. Specifically, there was an average increase of 0.51 percent for each month when compared with the same month of the previous year.
- From May 2019 through July 2019, the military branches enhanced their record reporting by increasing entries into the Controlled Substance category by 10 percent, with an overall increase in multiple categories of 2.63 percent.
- The U.S. Customs and Border Protection entered approximately 13 million illegal or unlawful alien records into the NICS Indices in October 2019.
Although the implementation plans have been in place for just a few months, these early indicators are encouraging. As the plans are executed over the next several years, the Department of Justice expects to see a real and lasting positive impact on NICS records and operations.