TIME Congress

House Passes Bill to Boost Funding for Gun Background Checks

Gun Control Isla Vista Shooting
A sign advocating gun control is seen on a makeshift memorial for 20-year-old UCSB student Christopher Michael-Martinez outside a deli that was one of nine crime scenes after a series of drive-by shootings that left 7 people dead in the Isla Vista neighborhood of Santa Barbara, Calif. May 25, 2014. Lucy Nicholson—Reuters

A background checks system widely seen as dysfunctional may get more funding in the wake of another mass shooting

Updated at 7:21 p.m. on May 29

House lawmakers advanced legislation Thursday that boosts funding for the federal system of background checks for gun purchases, less than a week after a gunman’s rampage in a California college town reignited debate over gun control.

“The background check system is only as good as the data you put in it,” Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), the chief co-sponsor of the amendment and chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, said in a statement. “And right now, all 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.”

“Everyday our background checks system stops more than 170 felons, some 50 domestic abusers, and nearly 20 fugitives from buying a gun,” Thompson added. Additional co-sponsors of the amendment to an appropriations bill include Reps. Pete King (R-N.Y.), Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), Joe Heck (R-Nev,) and Mike Quigley (D-Ill.).

The amendment passed 260 to 145.

Police say Elliot Rodger killed six people in a shooting and stabbing spree near the University of California, Santa Barbara last week, before taking his own life. Each mass shooting in recent years has sparked calls for stronger gun control measures, calls that are inevitably beat back by gun rights advocates. The amendment was a rare moment of bipartisan agreement.

The measure, if passed by the Senate and signed by President Barack Obama, would increase funding for the National Instant Criminal Background Checks System (NICS) by $19.5 million to pay for improvements to the database. A prospective gun buyer is checked against the database for red flags like felony convictions and history of mental illness, but the system is woefully dysfunctional. A USA Today investigation recently found that in five states alone, law enforcement agencies failed to submit records of 2.5 million arrest warrants to the database. Twelve states have submitted fewer than 100 mental health records to the NICS database, Thompson said.

After the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, with support from the National Rifle Association, authorized the Department of Justice to provide up to $190 million to improve the NICS system. But Congress has never come close to fully funding that mandate. In fiscal year 2013, the system was provided just $18 million. Last year that was pushed to $59 million. The Thompson amendment increases funding for the system for 2015 to $78 million.

In the wake of the California shootings last week, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called on Congress to revisit the possibility of strengthening the federal background checks system. A similar attempt following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings that left 20 children and six adults dead stalled due to pushback from gun rights groups. Rodger passed a background check to purchase the gun used in the shooting despite suffering from mental health issues. The Thompson amendment does not overhaul the NICS, it merely increases funding for the system.

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