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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Senate Passes NICS Improvement Act

The U.S. Senate passed H.R. 2640 on December 19th. The National Rifle Association (NRA) worked closely with Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to address his concerns regarding H.R. 2640, the National Instant Check System (NICS) Improvement Act. These changes make a good bill even better. According to NRA, the end product is a win for American gun owners.

Late in the day, anti-gun Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), failed to delay progress of the bill. The Violence Policy Center, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and other gun control and gun ban groups are opposed to the passage of this legislation because of the pro-gun improvements contained within.

The NICS Improvement Act does the following to benefit gun owners:

* Improves the accuracy and completeness of NICS by requiring federal agencies and participating states to provide relevant records to the FBI. For instance, it would give states an incentive to report those who were found adjudicated by a court to be "mentally defective," a danger to themselves, a danger to others and suicidal.

* Requires removal of expired, incorrect or otherwise irrelevant records. Today, totally innocent people (e.g., individuals with arrest records, who were never convicted of the crime charged) are sometimes subject to delayed or denied firearm purchases because of incomplete records in the system.

* Prevents use of federal "adjudications" that consist only of medical diagnoses without findings that the people involved are dangerous or mentally incompetent. This would ensure that purely medical records are never used in NICS. Gun ownership rights would only be lost as a result of a finding that the person is a danger to themselves or others, or lacks the capacity to manage his own affairs.

* Requires all federal agencies that impose mental health adjudications or commitments to provide a process for "relief from disabilities." Extreme anti-gun groups like the Violence Policy Center and Coalition to Stop Gun Violence have expressed "strong concerns" over this aspect of the bill-surely a sign that it represents progress for gun ownership rights.

* Provides a process of error correction if a person is inappropriately committed or declared incompetent by a federal agency. The individual would have an opportunity to correct the error-either through the agency or in court.

* Prevents reporting of mental adjudications or commitments by federal agencies when those adjudications or commitments have been removed.

* Permanently prohibits the FBI from charging a "user fee" for NICS checks.

* Requires a Government Accountability Office audit of past NICS improvement spending. The bill includes significant changes from the version that previously passed the House, including:

* Elimination of all references to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives regulations defining adjudications, commitments, or determinations related to Americans' mental health. Instead, the bill uses terms previously adopted by the Congress.

* Requires incorrect or outdated records to be purged from the system within 30 days after the Attorney General learns of the need for correction.

* Requires agencies to create "relief from disabilities" programs within 120 days, to prevent bureaucratic foot-dragging.

* States that a person applies for relief from disabilities and the agency fails to act on the application within a year-for any reason, including lack of funds-the application will be considered denied. This provision will allow the applicant to seek immediate review of his application in federal court.
* Allows awards of attorney's fees to applicants who successfully challenge a federal agency's denial of relief in court.

* Requires that federal agencies notify all people being subjected to a mental health "adjudication" or commitment process about the consequences to their firearm ownership rights, and the availability of future relief.

* Earmarks 3-10% of federal implementation grants for use in operating state "relief from disabilities" programs.

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