BJS/SEARCH Conference Helps States Comply with NICS Improvement Amendments Act

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The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), U.S. Department of Justice, and SEARCH hosted a conference in San Antonio, Texas, on December 15-16, 2009, to help states comply with the NICS Improvement Amendments Act (NIAA) of 2007.

The conference provided a forum for state criminal record repository, court, and mental health officials to hear from and discuss issues with their counterparts from across the country, as well as from representatives of the National Center for State Courts, the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and BJS.

All states except one were represented at the "NICS NIAA Conference," as was Guam.

NIAA was enacted by Congress in the wake of the tragic Virginia Tech shootings to increase the number of records available to the NICS to prevent ineligible persons from obtaining firearms.

Each state is required by NIAA to provide BJS with information on the number of records they may hold that might disqualify an individual from obtaining or possessing firearms, including records on mental health disqualifiers and other information not currently being contributed to NICS.

It is hoped that the identification of these records will help states and the federal government devise ways to increase their contribution to national background check system.

Forty-one states responded to BJS's initial State Estimates of Available Records Information Collection survey, which was sent to the states in February 2009. BJS plans to disseminate the second information collection survey in the coming months.

NIAA also requires states to develop "relief from disabilities" processes through which individuals prohibited from possessing firearms because of disqualifying mental health conditions can regain firearm possession rights by proving that the disqualifying conditions no longer exist. The failure to implement an approved "relief from disabilities" program renders a state ineligible for the NICS Act Record Improvement Program (NARIP), a grant program funded by the Congress and administered by BJS.

Only three states have had their proposed "relief from disabilities" programs approved.

States that fail to comply with certain NIAA provisions by 2011 risk losing a percentage of their federal justice assistance funding.

The day-and-a-half conference in San Antonio featured speakers on a variety of topics, including a review of NIAA requirements and a presentation on how NICS operates. Breakout sessions allowed states to consider common obstacles to NIAA compliance and to share solutions to surmounting them.

Conference Welcome Message from Sarah Brady, Chair, Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence
Mrs. Sarah Brady, Chair of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, delivered taped welcoming remarks. Brady is the wife of Jim Brady, one-time press secretary to former President Ronald Reagan, who was shot and partially paralyzed when John Hinckley attempted to assassinate President Reagan in 1981.

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1993 and named after Jim Brady, resulted in the establishment of NICS.

Also speaking at the event was Mr. Paul Helmke, Brady Center President.

Feedback from the more than 100 participants at the workshop provided the participant federal agencies with a better understanding of the obstacles facing full implementation of the NIAA by the states, as well as helping BJS to clarify future information collection surveys.

The BJS/SEARCH NICS Improvement Amendments Act Conference on December 15-16, 2009, drew representatives from 49 states and Guam to San Antonio.

KSAT ABC Channel 12 "Six O'Clock News" coverage: "Closing Loopholes"

KABB Fox Channel 29 "News at Nine" coverage: "Brady Law"