Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011

Floor Speech


The House in Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union had under consideration the bill (H.R. 1) making appropriations for the Department of Defense and the other departments and agencies of the Government for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2011, and for other purposes:

Mr. DINGELL. Mr. Chair, I rise in support of the amendment offered by the gentlewoman from New York, the Honorable Carolyn McCarthy, to provide needed funding for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. The intent of the amendment is for the Department of Justice to use $20 million appropriated in the State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance account to provide grants to States and tribal areas to implement the NICS Improvement Amendments Act, Public Law 110-180.

Representative McCarthy and I have worked together to improve the national instant check system since 2002. It was obvious to us at the time that the National Instant Check System was not working as Congress had intended it should. However, it was the tragedy of Virginia Tech that spurred Congress to act unanimously to update the instant check system. The perpetrator of that violent attack was adjudicated a danger to himself and others--therefore, legally prohibited from possessing a firearm--but was able to pass a background check because his name was not in the NICS database.

It is estimated that there are still millions of qualifying records that should be in NICS but are not. A study by the National Center for State Courts found there should be roughly twice as many mental-health records in NICS as there currently are, based on responses from 42 of 56 States and territories.

At the time we enacted the NICS Improvement Amendments Act, we found that there were two primary reasons there were delays in NICS background checks: the lack of updated and available State criminal disposition records and insufficient automated access to records pertaining to mental illness, restraining orders, and misdemeanor convictions for domestic violence.

The NICS Improvement Amendments Act sought to address these inadequacies by authorizing grants to States and tribal areas to upgrade their electronic records and technologies, enhance their capacities to perform background checks, supply accurate and timely criminal history disposition records, and improve reporting and transmitting to the NICS database. This amendment would allow the Department of Justice to continue making these grants. Adequate funding for NICS must be part of the equation to improve it. Between FY 09 and FY 11, the NICS Improvement Amendments Act authorizes appropriations of over $900 million. Yet, in FY 09 and FY 10, just $30 million has been appropriated.

Mr. Chair, all Members of Congress can agree that we must confront our budget and deficit. However, at a time when States' budgets are more strained than ever, the federal government must be ready to help protect public safety, enforce the laws on the books, and in turn, serve our national interest.

Funding for NICS is not only an important tool to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and those mentally unfit to possess them, but also to ensure individuals' Second Amendment rights are protected, as States are required to remove obsolete or erroneous records from the database. This commonsense amendment is supported by the National Rifle Association, an organization whose top priority is protecting the Second Amendment rights of Americans. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting it.