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Letter to the House on background checks for purchasers of firearms

May 28, 2014

Dear Representative: 

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association and the students they serve, we urge you to support the bipartisan amendment to the FY15 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill (H.R. 4660) by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Peter King (R-NY), which would provide an additional $19.5 million for grants to states and ensure tens of thousands of records of prohibited firearm purchasers are provided to the FBI for inclusion in the National Instant Criminal Background Checks System (NICS). Votes on this issue may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 113th Congress.

The impetus for the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-180), passed unanimously by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush, was to make the instant background check system for gun sales faster and more accurate. To achieve these goals, Congress promised to give the states money to improve the NICS database, particularly with regard to ensuring the inclusion of disqualifying domestic violence and mental illness records.

While the submission of records—and effectiveness—of NICS has improved, progress has been slow due to the failure to appropriate the authorized amount. In FY2014, the U.S. Department of Justice was unable to meet 25 percent of states’ grant requests due to the funding shortfall. Twelve states have submitted fewer than 100 mental health records to NICS. At least 2.5 million arrest warrants outstanding in five states still have not been entered into the system, allowing potentially dangerous fugitives to pass a background check.

Educators are all too aware of the tragic toll taken on students, families, and communities by senseless gun violence that can be prevented with common-sense steps. Congress was in unison when the NICS Improvement Amendments Act became law seven years ago, and this Congress can now ensure the law works more effectively as states request the money they need to make background checks faster and more accurate. We urge you to support the Thompson/King amendment to the FY15 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill (H.R. 4660) to help ensure safer communities and learning environments for our nation’s students.

Sincerely,

Mary Kusler
Director, Government Relations