The House version of the annual spending bill for the Department of Justice includes an additional $7 million to help states provide better data, including mental health records, to the National Instant Background Check System.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) serves as chairman of the House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations subcommittee.
The full appropriations committee approved the $51 billion bill Thursday. The House is expected to take up the measure next month.
The move comes just after the five-year anniversary of the shootings at Virginia Tech, in which a gunman killed 32 people and wounded 17 others. On that day, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence called on Congress to improve gun laws.
The shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, was able to purchase a gun because information about his mental health was not available. Virginia had been providing information to the NICS, but due to uncertainties in the law, the state was not submitting information on those voluntarily admitted to a treatment facility but who were required to receive outpatient treatment. That was changed after the shooting.
Last week, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) sent letters to every governor in the nation asking for support in improving background checks for gun purchases. He asked the governors to provide information to the NICS, which is required to be used by federal firearms licensees to determine whether a potential buyer is eligible to purchase a gun or explosive. In the past decade, more than 100 million checks have been made, leading to more than 700,000 denials.
“Today’s appropriation of $12 million to strengthen reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is a testament to the bipartisan efforts of Republican Chairman Frank Wolf and Ranking Member Chaka Fattah,” said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, co-chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “This is the kind of bipartisan leadership that our coalition stands for and that is so urgently needed to reduce the gun-related crimes that kill 34 people in our country every day.”
Twenty-three states and the District have submitted fewer than 100 mental health records to the federal database, according to a November 2011 report, “Fatal Gaps by Mayors Against Illegal Guns.” Seventeen states have submitted fewer than 10 mental health records, and four states have not submitted any records.
Forty-four states have submitted fewer than 10 records about the use of controlled substances, and 33 have not submitted any records, according to the report.
In January 2008, President George W. Bush signed a law that sought to address the gap in information available to NICS after the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. The bill was supported by the Brady Campaign and the NRA.
Only 16 states are eligible for NICS improvement grants, according to Wolf’s office. His committee is urging ATF to help states meet the criteria and receive grant funding to update their data.
This post has been updated since it was first published.