20 years after Columbine, the Fed's background checks did not stop the mass shootings: NPR


On April 25, 1999, a memorial service in honor of the victims of Columbine High School, during the shooting of Littleton, Colorado.

Eric Gay / AP

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Eric Gay / AP

On April 25, 1999, a memorial service in honor of the victims of Columbine High School, during the shooting of Littleton, Colorado.

Eric Gay / AP

Twenty years ago, a student couple killed a teacher and a dozen of their classmates in a high school in Littleton, Colorado.

Just months before this shootout, the FBI had launched the national system of instant background checks to prevent dangerous individuals from buying firearms.

And over the past two decades, the federal government has reported more than hundreds of millions of background checks. With critical gaps in the system, however, mass shootings continue to occur in the United States.

"We are talking about the weakness of the NICS system mainly as a result of a tragic shootout, which occurs most often," says Stephen Morris, former deputy director of the FBI for the information services division on the criminal justice, which oversees the NICS.

The NICS works today as it did 20 years ago. When someone wants to buy a firearm, a federally licensed firearms dealer contacts the system. Federal investigators usually receive the application in minutes and begin looking for clues in three major databases to approve or reject the purchase.

The FBI said the system had refused more than 1.3 million firearm transfers since NICS operations began.

If additional research is required, the purchase may be deferred until three business days. If, at that time, the investigators can not perform the additional background check, the federal law allows the arms dealer to proceed with the transaction.

In 2015, a white supremacist in Charleston, South Carolina, was able to obtain a firearm after the FBI failed to verify his antecedents before the three-day deadline.

The purchase of the weapon could pass and this gunman later killed nine black worshipers.

As NPR reported later, it was discovered that the shooter had admitted to possessing a controlled substance during an arrest. This should have denied the purchase on the grounds of "an addict or an illegal drug addict".

Since its inception in late 1998, the federal government has reported that the NICS has launched some 311 million background checks, of which 26 million in 2018 alone.

"We're talking about a system and a process that was created more than 20 years ago, it goes without saying that the system is stressed," said Morris, the former head of the company. FBI.

The NICS system relies on national and local agencies to make the data more robust, but records may sometimes be missing or incomplete.

"Like any database, the system performs as well as the recordings recorded in this system," said Lawrence Keane of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. "There are real examples where the background check system was not accurate"

Like at Virginia Tech in 2017, when 33 people died, including the shooter.

In this case, Virginia court documents made public after the acts of violence were perpetrated showed that a judge had previously declared the man "mentally ill" and ordered him to be made treatment. But at the time, Virginia did not fully share the information with NICS. If this information had been in the system, there was a better chance that the shooter would not have been able to get his weapons.

In 2017, an armed man killed 27 people, including himself, in Sutherland Springs, Texas. He was a veteran of the Air Force and had bought an assault rifle and two handguns, but a domestic violence conviction during his service should have prohibited him from owning the weapons. The Air Force has never captured this information in the NICS.

As a result of these attacks, Congress enacts legislation to address deficiencies, including providing States with more financial incentives for sharing information with the NICS.

After high-profile firing, advocates for the prevention of armed violence often repeat their calls for universal verification of antecedents. These would require a background check on virtually all sales of firearms, not just those administered by federally licensed firearms dealers.

Lawrence Keane, of the firearms industry's professional association, says that he does not think that the universal background check at the federal level is the solution.

"We think we need to work to repair the NICS system even before you have a conversation about its expansion," said Keane. "It does not make sense for us to extend background checks, through so-called universal background checks, when the current system is not working as it should."

Twenty states, including California, Connecticut and Vermont, however, have extended background checks to include private sales of at least some transactions with a firearm. That's what the Giffords Law Center says for the prevention of gun violence.

This week again, an 18-year-old woman said she was "thrilled" by the shooting at Columbine High School, flew from Miami to Denver and bought a shotgun with a few hours later. ammunition.

More than a dozen school districts in the Denver area, including Columbine High School, were closed Wednesday while a "massive human hunt" was underway for the woman. His body was found later in the day after apparently being killed.

The owner of the gun shop who had sold the guns had posted on Facebook that she had managed both the Colorado Bureau Investigation background check system and the NICS.

"She passed all the background checks and was authorized by both NICS and CBI, and we had no reason to think that she was a threat to herself or anyone else. or else. "

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