Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — For the first time in five years since the Sandy Hook school shooting, there seems to be a bill that both sides of the gun debate can support.

U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, who represents Newtown, said Monday that the Fix NICS Act, which she helped introduce in the House along with Republican Reps. John Culberson from Texas and Ryan Costello from Pennsylvania, will help ensure that federal and state officials accurately report information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

“We are committed to seeing this through in the House and I think that is different,” Esty said.

The NICS database is maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigations and is used by some sellers to determine whether a prospective buyer has a criminal history or is otherwise ineligible to purchase a firearm. Some of the weaknesses in the database were exposed by the gunman who killed 26 people in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The U.S. Air Force had failed to disclose domestic assaults to the database, which should have prohibited him from buying a gun.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy introduced bipartisan legislation with Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, in the Senate last week.

“It is probably the most significant anti-gun violence legislation introduced in a bipartisan way since the Manchin-Toomey background checks compromise of 2013,” Murphy said Monday.

He said they still disagree on what gun sales should be subject to background checks, but they agree that all the information should be reported on that federal database used to conduct the background check.

He said the Fix NICS Act “reorders the sticks and carrots” that they present to federal agencies to make sure more of the records are being uploaded.

“I don’t know whether this is a turning point, but it is significant that Republicans are now willing to join Democrats in making some pretty significant improvements to the background check system,” Murphy said.

Both Murphy and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal joined Esty Monday at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford to discuss the legislation.

Blumenthal said they could see this legislation passed before the end of the year.

He said the next step would be requiring this to be applied to all gun sales. He said there’s a provision in the law that allows people to buy guns if the background check has not been completed within 72 hours. Background checks are not required under federal law for intrastate firearm transfers between private parties.

“I think there is promise and hope here even though it may be seen, understandably, as a baby step,” Blumenthal said.

The legislation, according to Esty, is designed to get more records into NICS.

Murphy said it requires every federal agency to come up with a detailed plan, which they will submit to the Department of Justice, about how they’re going to upload records.

It gives state extra points on their Department of Justice grants if they comply with the background check system requirement. Previously, states would be given a penalty if they didn’t comply, but that penalty was so large that “no one ever imposed it,” Murphy said.

He said giving them a carrot will make it much more likely states will comply.

For the federal agencies, it makes the heads of those agencies accountable, Murphy said.

“Heads of agencies that don’t submit records, according to the law, would not be able to receive a bonus,” Murphy said. “There are punitive steps taken against heads of agencies if they don’t comply.”

Blumenthal, Murphy and Esty on NICS background check legislation.

Posted by on Monday, November 20, 2017