WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) joined by Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced the NICS Data Integrity Act, a bill that would allow the FBI to maintain gun-purchase records until background checks are complete. Under current law, the FBI is required to purge incomplete background checks from its systems if they are not finalized within 88 days, a practice that often results in guns being sold without finished background checks. The bill also requires the FBI to search the National Data Exchange (N-DEx) database, an information-sharing system used by criminal justice agencies, for all background checks. Currently the FBI can only search N-DEx if a background check is delayed.

“It’s absurd that incomplete background check records are literally destroyed if they’re not finished within 88 days,” said Murphy. “Most NICS checks are completed in a matter of seconds, but the handful that require more time and research to determine whether the person is prohibited by law from purchasing a firearm should have the time they need. This is not controversial: over 90% of Americans believe you should have to pass a background check before getting a gun. There’s no reason NICS examiners shouldn’t keep working on incomplete applications until they know for sure they’re not prohibited by law from buying a gun, which is what the NICS Data Integrity Act would require. This is an obvious fix to a loophole in the law that will keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous people and save more lives from senseless violence.” 

“This bill is really basic,” said Blumenthal. “This legislation just prevents a background check from being deleted if it takes too long. The vast majority of background checks are completed in mere moments. This legislation closes a loophole that allows the checks that take longer from being wiped completely. If you support keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people, there is simply no reason to oppose it.”

There has been a surge in gun sales during the COVID-19 pandemic. The New York Times reported that approximately 2 million guns were purchased in March, the second highest monthly total ever. The recent spike in gun sales means more background checks need to be completed by an already overburdened system and may not be done in the allotted 88 days.

According to an internal FBI report, the agency was required to purge more than 1.1 million incomplete background checks between January 2014 and July 2019 due to the current law. The FBI estimated that at least 3,960 guns were obtained illegally in 2018 due to delayed background checks. However, since the data was purged, there is no way to know exactly how many gun sales should have been blocked.

Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) in February introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.