On June 13, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H.R. 2640, the “NICS Improvement Act,” by a voice vote. H.R. 2640 is consistent with NRA’s decades-long support for measures to prohibit firearm purchases by those who have been adjudicated by a court as mentally defective or as a danger to themselves or others. Additionally, H.R. 2640 makes needed, and long overdue, improvements to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
While the media continues to characterize this bill as a “gun-control” measure, nothing could be further from the truth. The national media either have not bothered to read and accurately assess the text of the bill, or are deliberately manipulating and “spinning” the facts in order to stir up controversy and forward their agendas.
Here are the facts: H.R. 2640 would provide financial incentives to states to make records of prohibited individuals available for use in the NICS, and would also require federal agencies to provide such records. Those blocked from buying a gun due to these newly provided and updated records in the NICS are already prohibited under current law from owning firearms.
The basic goal of the bill is to make NICS as instant, fair, and accurate as possible. While no piece of legislation will stop a madman bent on committing horrific crimes, those who have been found mentally incompetent by a court should be included in the NICS as they are already prohibited under federal law from owning firearms. H.R. 2640 is sound legislation that makes numerous improvements over existing federal law, including:
- Certain types of mental health orders will no longer prohibit a person from possessing or receiving firearms. Adjudications that have expired or been removed, or commitments from which a person has been completely released with no further supervision required, will no longer prohibit the legal purchase of a firearm.
- Excluding federal decisions about a person’s mental health that consist only of a medical diagnosis, without a specific finding that the person is dangerous or mentally incompetent. This provision addresses concerns about disability decisions by the Veterans Administration concerning our brave men and women in uniform. (In 2000, as a parting shot at our service members, the Clinton Administration forced the names of almost 90,000 veterans and veterans’ family members to be added to a “prohibited” list; H.R. 2640 would help many of these people get their rights restored.)
- Requiring all participating federal or state agencies to establish “relief from disability” programs that would allow a person to get the mental health prohibition removed, either administratively or in court. This type of relief has not been available at the federal level for the past 15 years.
- Ensuring—as a permanent part of federal law—that no fee or tax is associated with a NICS check, an NRA priority for nearly a decade. While NRA has supported annual appropriations amendments with the same effect, those amendments must be renewed every year. This provision would not expire.
- Requiring an audit of past spending on NICS projects to find out if funds appropriated for NICS were misused for unrelated purposes.
Neither current federal law, nor H.R. 2640, would prohibit gun possession by people who have voluntarily sought psychological counseling or checked themselves into a hospital:
- Current law only prohibits gun possession by people who have been “adjudicated as a mental defective” or “committed to any mental institution.” Current BATFE regulations specifically exclude commitments for observation and voluntary commitments. Records of voluntary treatment also would not be available under federal and state health privacy laws.
- Similarly, voluntary drug or alcohol treatment would not be reported to NICS. First, voluntary treatment is not a “commitment.” Second, current federal law on gun possession by drug users, as applied in BATFE regulations, only prohibits gun ownership by those whose “unlawful [drug] use has occurred recently enough to indicate that the individual is actively engaged in such conduct.”
- In short, neither current law nor this legislation would affect those who voluntarily get psychological help. No person who needs help for a mental health or substance abuse problem should be deterred from seeking that help due to fear of losing Second Amendment rights.
This bill now moves to the Senate for consideration. NRA will continue to work throughout this Congressional process and vigilantly monitor this legislation to ensure that any changes to the NICS benefit lawful gun purchasers, while ensuring that those presently adjudicated by the courts as mentally defective are included in the system.
If anti-gun Members of Congress succeed in attaching any anti-gun amendments to this bill, we will withdraw support and strongly oppose it!
For additional information, please click here: http://www.nraila.org/Issues/FactSheets/Read.aspx?id=219&issue=018.