Pro-Gun Groups Disagree on Bill Improving Background Checks

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - A Second Amendment group is warning gun owners that a "massive gun control bill" is now working its way through Congress -- and is surprisingly close to becoming law.

Gun Owners of America also admits that it is the only national pro-gun group to oppose the "NICS Improvement Act of 2005" (H.R. 1415).

Introduced by gun control advocate Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, H.R. 1415 is intended to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which screens would-be gun buyers for mental problems or criminal convictions that would bar them from buying guns.

Most background checks are processed through NICS in seconds, but some are delayed if the FBI lacks complete, updated, and automated information from the states.

The bill notes that approximately 24 million criminal records are not automated or not accessible to NICS; and another 16 million criminal records are not up to date. Some lack information on whether an arrested person was convicted or acquitted, for example.

Many states have failed to computerize the necessary information and make it available to NICS in a "usable format," and that's what the McCarthy bill would address.

But Gun Owners of America warns that the bill would give the states hundreds of millions of dollars to "further prop up the unconstitutional Brady Law." GOA argues that the federal government lacks the authority to conduct background checks on gun buyers under the Second and Tenth Amendments.

Rep. McCarthy and Sen. Charles Schumer, both New York Democrats, first introduced this bill in 2002 after a double murder at a Long Island Catholic church. The gunman had passed an instant background check because the NICS did not have information about his mental health problems and a restraining order that should have prevented him from buying a gun.

The bill passed the House in 2002, but was killed in the Senate.

"There are many good pro-gun members on the committee who are being fed misinformation," Gun Owners of America said. "They're being told that this is a harmless bill that will simply make the Brady law work more efficiently."

According to Gun Owners of America, the bill is "anything but harmless" because it will make available to the federal government millions of state records "that could include state tax returns, employment records, library records, DMV, hospital, mental health and some misdemeanor records -- all in the name of making sure you're not prohibited from owning a gun."

GOA argues that the bill will allow for an enormous data dump from the states to the federal government -- "laying the infrastructure for even more gun control in the future."

"H.R. 1415, perhaps the most massive expansion of gun control since the Brady bill passed in 1993, is not a bill that should be supported by pro-gun conservatives," GOA said. It warns that the bill's strongest supporters include anti-gun lawmakers and gun control groups.

"If you don't act quickly, your representative will hear only voices of support for this monstrosity," Gun Owners of America said.

Okay with NRA

The National Rifle Association takes a less ominous view of the bill.

"This bill...would improve availability of criminal history and other records for conducting background checks on firearm buyers," says an analysis on the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action website.

The NRA said the bill, among other things, also prohibits the FBI from charging a user fee for background checks on gun buyers.

The NRA agrees that NICS records are inadequate -- and it notes that inaccurate or incomplete records can delay firearm purchases and result in "wrongful denials" of law-abiding gun-buyers.

"This bill would help fix those problems," the NRA-ILA said. "Importantly," the NRA noted, H.R. 1415 also requires removal of records that are incorrect or irrelevant in determining a person's eligibility to buy a firearm.

For instance, if a person was at one time committed to a mental institution, but was later found not to be mentally ill, that record should be removed from instant check databases, the NRA said.

The bill requires federal agencies and states to provide "all relevant records" to the FBI for use in the NICS system.According to the NRA, "This would generally include records of convicted felons, fugitives from justice, persons convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence, and persons subject to domestic restraining orders, as well as federal records of illegal aliens."

It also includes records of people who have been adjudicated mentally defective or committed to a mental institution.

H.R. 1415 passed of a House crime subcommittee in May and is slated to come before the full Judiciary Committee in September.

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