Gun Background Checks Bolstered Under Bipartisan Senate Proposal

(Bloomberg) -- A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation Thursday to ensure federal and state authorities comply with existing law and accurately report individuals’ criminal histories to a system used for background checks ahead of gun purchases.

The measure -- whose sponsors include John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, and Democrats Dianne Feinstein of California and Chris Murphy of Connecticut -- represents a rare bipartisan consensus on an issue that has deeply divided the two parties for decades.

The proposal follows the killing of 26 people, 14 of them children, during a Sunday service earlier this month at a Baptist church in the small Texas town of Sutherland Springs.

The measure would bolster the 1993 Brady law, which mandated background checks for firearms purchased from licensed gun dealers through an FBI database. It was designed to prevent sales to those prohibited from owning guns under an earlier law, primarily convicted felons and those judged to be mentally ill.

Data Gaps

The system has been criticized for gaps in the data and reporting.

Those gaps apparently allowed the gunman in the Texas church massacre to buy his weapons. The shooter shouldn’t have been able to purchase the semi-automatic rifle he used in the attack because while in the Air Force he was convicted in a court martial of domestic abuse in 2012. The Air Force has admitted that it failed to report the conviction to the FBI’s national database of criminal records that is used for background checks.

Part of the problem may have been the military code doesn’t have a specific classification for domestic violence cases, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican, said earlier this month.

The legislation would penalize federal agencies that fail to report relevant criminal records and provide incentives to states to improve their reporting, according to a statement from the lawmakers. The bill also seeks more federal funding for reporting of domestic violence records.

Attempts to strengthen U.S. gun control laws have been stymied since a ban on military-style semi-automatic rifles, commonly known as assault weapons, expired in 2004.

Proposals to expand the background check law and reinstate the assault weapons ban after a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school in 2012, killing 20 children and six adults, failed in Congress.

There have been multiple mass shootings since then, including the killing of 56 people in Las Vegas in October and the Texas church shooting. The latest was Tuesday when five people were killed by a man who went on a shooting spree in the rural town of Rancho Tehama, California.

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