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Why the 'Fix NICS' gun proposal is not universal background checks

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, have ...

Posted: Feb 27, 2018 12:06 PM
Updated: Feb 27, 2018 12:06 PM

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, have differing opinions on how to address gun control laws and improve America's background checks system in the wake of the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead.

Cornyn, joined by Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, and other senators from both parties, are pushing a bill to improve reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. It's known as the Fix NICS bill.

But Schumer, a longtime gun control advocate who supports Fix NICS, said "at a minimum," Congress should enact "universal background checks" for gun purchases.

He added, "If all Congress does in response to the Parkland shooting is to pass the Fix NICS bill, it would be an abject failure and a dereliction of our duty."

Cornyn suggested universal background checks can't pass Congress, which is controlled by Republicans many of whom are wary of gun control.

"I'm for doing what's achievable," Cornyn told reporters at Capitol Hill Monday. "If they want to get bogged down again and do nothing, to me that's unacceptable."

What is and isn't included in NICS

The proposal by Cornyn and Murphy would offer financial incentives for federal and state authorities to comply with existing law to report criminal history records to the system. That would make it easier for NICS to flag and weed out people who shouldn't be able to buy guns.

In the simplest terms, the bill wouldn't strengthen background checks but instead hold federal agencies accountable if they fail to upload records to the background check system.

Universal background checks include all gun sales

What Schumer wants is to make it so anyone who buys a gun goes through a background check. Currently, NICS checks are only done for sales at federally licensed dealers. Schumer and other Democrats want to expand that to include sales at gun shows, over the Internet and other private sales.

"Democrats believe that, at a minimum, the Congressional response to the Parkland shooting should include universal background check legislation that would close the gun show and Internet sales loopholes that allow guns to fall into the wrong hands," he said in a statement.

The politics

Democrats would have the votes to block the Fix NICS bill if they banded together and insisted it not pass without universal background checks included. But it's not clear if they will choose to do that because it could mean that nothing passes Congress.

To Cornyn's point, it's not clear that there are enough votes for Schumer's proposal to pass, particularly with Republicans in control of the chamber and 10 Democratic senators facing re-election this year in states President Donald Trump won.

Senate Democrats will caucus Tuesday at their weekly policy lunch and may reach a consensus on a path forward at that time.

This story has been updated.

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