Chairman Nadler Opening Statement for the Markup of H.R. 1112, the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019
Washington, DC, February 13, 2019
Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement for the markup of H.R. 1112, the Enhanced Background Checks Act:
“H.R. 1112, the ‘Enhanced Background Checks Act,’ addresses a dangerous shortcoming in the current firearms background check law. This loophole enables, in certain cases, firearms to be transferred by licensed gun dealers before the required background checks have been completed.
“In most cases, a licensed gun dealer receives notification within a few minutes from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System—often called NICS—that a prospective buyer has passed or failed a background check. In a small percentage of instances, NICS examiners may require additional time to complete the background check if information is missing or unclear in a prospective buyer’s record.
“However, as we learned in last week’s hearing on ‘Preventing Gun Violence,’ under current law, a licensed gun dealer conducting a background check on a prospective purchaser is permitted to sell the firearm to the purchaser if there has been no determination from NICS after three business days, even though NICS has not indicated that the person has actually passed the background check. Often, we refer to this as a “default proceed” transaction.
“These are the very cases that ought to be investigated. In 2017 alone, the ATF determined that over 4,000 ‘default proceed’ firearms transfers went to purchasers who could not lawfully own a firearm. If NICS is unable to return an instant determination, and especially if there is no report after three days, there is cause for concern. We should take extra care in these cases to ensure that there is no reason that the purchaser is prohibited from buying a gun. But, perversely—and dangerously—the default rule today is that we err on the side of giving a gun to someone who may not be legally entitled to own it, before we know all the facts.
“One notable example of the tragic consequences of this loophole is the hate-crime murder of nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. In that tragedy, the shooter was not legally allowed to possess a firearm as a result of drug charges, but he still was able to purchase his gun from a licensed dealer, who made the decision to transfer after three business days had elapsed, despite not having received a definitive response from the background check system.
“The bill before us today, H.R. 1112, would strengthen the background check procedures federal firearms licensees or dealers follow before selling or transferring a firearm. Under this measure, the initial period a gun dealer must wait for an answer from the NICS, is extended from 3 to ten days. If, after ten days the NICS system has not returned an answer to the licensed firearms dealer, the prospective purchaser may file a petition with the Attorney General, which should help resolve most applications in short order.
“If an additional ten days elapses without a response from the NICS system, the licensed firearms dealer then may sell or transfer the firearm to the prospective purchaser, if the dealer has no reason to believe that the purchaser is prohibited from obtaining a firearm under Federal, state, or local law.
“H.R. 1112 is a sensible and necessary approach to address this issue, and I commend our colleague, Congressman Jim Clyburn, the distinguished Democratic Whip, for introducing this bipartisan bill. There has long been bipartisan support for the requirement in current law that licensed gun dealers conduct background checks on prospective purchasers. I would hope that extending the period for such ‘default proceed’ situations—to ensure that we do not make a tragic mistake—would also enjoy bipartisan support in the Committee today.
“There is a narrow and limited range of cases in which such an extension of time to process NICS applications would be necessary, but we know that giving the FBI just a little bit more time to complete checks when additional information must be obtained and investigated will save lives.
“Therefore, I strongly support this bill and I ask that my colleagues do the same.”