The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

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A Year After New Law Enacted, Progress on Brady Background Checks, But Still a Long Way to Go


In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech tragedy in April 2007, nearly
all elected officials, as well as the public, agreed about one
important policy change: the Federal Brady background check system
needed strengthening to make it harder for dangerous people like the
Virginia Tech killer to purchase dangerous weapons.

The problem was, and is, simple and startling: the total number of
disqualifying mental illness records in the system is estimated to be
less than 20 percent of the estimated 2.6 million such records that
ought to be in the system, according to analysis by the U.S. Government
Accountability Office (GAO). In addition, as of early last year it was
estimated that approximately 25 percent of felony conviction records
nationwide were not in the National Instant Criminal Background Check
System (NICS).

To give states stronger incentives to submit records of prohibited
purchasers to the FBI, which takes the lead role in processing
background checks, Congress passed and President Bush signed the NICS
Improvement Act with nearly unanimous bipartisan support.

Since the bill was signed into law a year ago today,
there has been steady progress by some states in submitting more
records to NICS, but many states are still failing to submit their
records. And despite the law's authorization of funding to help the
states cope with the costs of providing the records, the 110th Congress
appropriated no funds for the legislation last year.

"We went into this effort to ensure that dangerous people don't pass
their Brady background check because of incomplete information from the
states," said Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign. "But not
enough has been done yet at the federal or state level to make sure the
job gets done."

The Virginia Tech killer was able to buy a gun because the court
order finding him to be dangerously mentally ill had not been submitted
to the background check system.

Since the April 16, 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, some states
have taken action to improve their reporting of disqualifying mental
illness records while other states have done nothing or very little.
According to the latest FBI statistics, through October 31, 2008,
thirteen states have still failed to provide any disqualifying mental
illness records to NICS while another sixteen states report very few
records (less than 10), with some states like Indiana,
Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Vermont and Mississippi submitting
only one disqualifying mental illness record to NICS

Since the Virginia Tech shootings seven states - Arkansas,
Illinois, Maine, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and West
Virginia - have passed legislation to improve their reporting
while another six states are already considering legislation in 2009.
Two Governors - Virginia's Tim Kaine and Maryland's Governor Martin
O'Malley - have signed executive orders improving the states'
performance on record submission. Furthermore, another six
states significantly improved their reporting of disqualifying mental
illness records to NICS from 2007 to 2008. Those states are Arizona,
Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Missouri and Ohio

For those states yet to submit any records, or doing a substandard
job of submitting, the funding authorized by the NICS Improvement Act
could provide financial help in getting more disqualifying mental
illness records into NICS. "We don't want another person with a
disqualifying mental illness slipping through the cracks and being able
to pass a background check and buy a firearm," Helmke said. "We need
to do all we can to prevent another Virginia Tech."

Brady United formerly known as The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and its legislative and grassroots affiliate, the Brady Campaign and its dedicated network of Million Mom March Chapters, is the nation's largest, non-partisan, grassroots organization leading the fight to prevent gun violence. We are devoted to creating an America free from gun violence, where all Americans are safe at home, at school, at work, and in our communities.