When I first began digging into solutions to our country’s challenge with keeping guns away from those who shouldn’t have access to them, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database and the phrase “prohibited persons” meant absolutely nothing to me. But the more I began to dig, the more I began to realize the deficiencies interwoven within the systems that exist to keep guns away from individuals prohibited from owning firearms. To begin, let’s be sure we are all speaking the same language and using the same terms.
NICS is a national system that is intended to identify people prohibited under federal law from purchasing firearms from a licensed dealer.
There are many categories of prohibited persons. I’ll name a few to give you a sense:
A person who has been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year or any state offense classified as a misdemeanor and punishable by a term of imprisonment of more than two years
An unlawful user and/or addict of any controlled substance
A person adjudicated mentally defective or involuntarily committed to a mental institution or incompetent to handle his/her own affairs
To keep it simple, this system and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act that mandated use of the system, was created to keep dangerous people and potentially dangerous people away from guns, i.e. violent criminals, domestic abusers, those who are persistently and severely mentally ill, etc. And while NICS sounds good on paper, it isn’t being enforced across the country.
According to the Miami Herald in 2018, only one of the 67 counties in Florida was complying with the federal law specific to the category for adjudicated mentally defective or involuntary commitment. In a 2016 report to Congress, the FBI said many states remain confused about how to report mental health records. Even Congress understands the enforcement problem, enacting the Fix NICS Act in 2018 that required federal agencies to report correctly and encouraged states to follow suit – work that will take years to complete.
Why do I care about this? I want the system to work. Whether it is to prevent the next mass shooting or suicide, NICS can effectively prevent prohibited persons from purchasing firearms through licensed dealers and ultimately, save lives. In two very memorable examples, the system failed and a number of innocent lives were lost: Sutherland Springs and Charleston.
Now, how does Whitney/Strong participate in solving this problem? To start, we will begin by investigating the September 6th shooting which left innocent people dead and me, severely wounded. Information regarding the shooter’s alleged struggles with severe mental illness is abundant, even one article shared that his mother and sister argued before Palm Beach County judges that he was violent and mentally ill.
If we determine that the shooter was a prohibited person who should not have been able to purchase the 9mm semiautomatic handgun on Aug. 2, 2018, we will use every tool available to us, up to and including litigation, to shine a light on this major breakdown and others like it. While September 6th may not be the perfect example of a NICS breakdown, we will find them and we will bring attention to them in a way no one has done before.
We can do better. We must do better. Our goal is simple – let’s use our platform to remind federal, state and local governments to enforce the laws that exist.
If this solution is important to you, please show support financially by donating here: https://www.whitneystrong.org/donate
Important sidebar: A 2018 Pew Research Center study revealed that 89% of Republicans and 89% of Democrats agree on preventing people with mental illness from buying guns. It is wonderful that such consensus exists – it’s one of the reasons we landed on this solution. However, please remember that mental illness alone, is not the sole predictor of future violent behavior. In fact, mentally ill individuals are 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.
We will always encourage our followers to meet mental illness with kindness.