In response to last week’s mass shooting in Santa Barbra, Calif., House lawmakers approved a funding increase for the Nation’s background check system for firearms on Thursday.
An amendment to a 2015 appropriations bill provides an additional $19.5 million in grant funding for the FBI National Instant Background Check System (NICS). The background check system has been championed as a tool which keeps firearms out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill in the U.S.
“Right now, all of the information isn’t getting in. When the information doesn’t get into the system, we can’t enforce the law, and dangerous people who otherwise wouldn’t pass a background check can slip through the cracks and buy guns,” the amendment’s sponsor, Representative Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) said.
Thompson said that the additional funds are intended to strengthen the background check system, particularly with regard to mental illness red flags.
Currently, States are encouraged to report information about illegal immigrants, domestic violence offenders and the severely mentally-ill to NICS, but not all do. The Thursday funding approval is aimed at incentivizing States to provide that information.
“Our states need more resources to get all their information into the NICS system. If we give them the resources, we can stop dangerous people from getting guns, and we can save lives,” Thompson said.
In 2007, problems with the NICS’s ability to keep track of people deemed a potential threat because of mental disturbance were revealed when 23-year-old Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people on and near the campus of his college. Two years earlier, Cho had been declared mentally unstable by a Virginia judge; he was never flagged in the system.
The amendment, co-sponsored by Republican Representative Peter King (R-N.Y.), was able to muster modest GOP support.
Representative Frank Wolf (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee, said “Enforcing existing laws that keeps guns out of the hands of prohibited individuals is a goal we all share.”
The National Rifle Association took a “neutral stance” on the amendment, which will bring grant funding for NICS to $78 million for FY2015 if passed by the Senate and signed into law. That’s up from $59 million this year and just $18 million in FY2013.
Historically, the NRA has supported NICS funding.
“Look, NRA’s all for the Instant Check. We were there before anyone else was even talking about it,” Wayne LaPierre said back in 2011. “We need to fund it, we to make the sure the states turn over their records.”