Bud Kennedy

Here’s a gun law everyone can support: Fixing the background check system

We map sex offenders by the block and house number.

We lock teachers up for not reporting another teacher dating a student.

We set up hotlines and websites to report human trafficking. And drunken driving. And littering.

But what if a violent offender buys a gun just because nobody logged his or her past conviction?

Isn’t failing to record a felony or domestic violence conviction just as dangerous as failing to report the abuse?

Even some ardent Second Amendment advocates say yes, and call for reforming the sloppy, incomplete FBI database used for gun buyers’ background checks.

About 7 million felony convictions — one-fourth — are missing from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) of criminal record searches, according to the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics.

That doesn’t mean one-fourth of violent or felon gun purchasers lie and get away with buying a gun. Some buyers are rejected over other felony history.

But even the National Rifle Association supports a stronger database and stiffer enforcement against lazy agencies.

That’s after court-martialed airman Devin Kelley of New Braunfels killed his dog, beat his wife and cracked his son’s skull, yet freely bought guns he used to shoot up a Sutherland Springs church.

“For years, agencies and states haven’t complied with the law, failing to upload these critical records,” Sen. John Cornyn said in a statement Thursday when he announced a new bill to toughen offense reporting, the Fix NICS Act.

I’ve tried to ask lately how Tarrant County’s felons and misdemeanor domestic violence offenders get reported to the FBI, and who double-checks to make sure those records are complete.

In a county with more than 100,000 legal handgun licensees — 7,000 in the Burleson and Mansfield ZIP codes alone, two of the most armed cities in Texas — you’d think our agencies would be extra-vigilant to make sure nobody illegally buys or owns a gun.

But department heads in the Tarrant County district attorney’s office didn’t know much about the FBI system. A Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman said he’d have to ask around.

District Clerk Tom Wilder said he thinks it’s an automated system, but some reports aren’t complete.

“If anyone leaves off any info, that case doesn’t go into the record,” Wilder said: “Garbage in, garbage out.”

Alice Tripp of the Texas State Rifle Association said passing a bill to make people keep records is “crazy, but that may be what it takes.”

“The system is 20 years old,” Tripp said. “If somebody hasn’t been reporting convictions for 20 years — that’s pretty bad.”

It’s a federal felony if someone who can’t legally own a gun tries to buy one. That’s on the application, but maybe it needs to be on a sign in big letters.

Open Carry Texas protest leader C.J. Grisham of Temple said he disagrees with the system.

“The potential for disarming Americans is too great,” he said. “When the government gets to decide who qualifies to purchase a firearm, what’s to stop them from saying no one [does]?”

But that doesn’t seem likely.

Fort Worth lawyer Justin Sparks of Texas Law Shield, which defends handgun licensees and legal gun owners, said he likes the idea of a “failure-to-report” law.

Right now, “there is no punishment for not reporting,” he said.

“I truly believe if a penalty for non-reporting were put into place, then our records would be more accurate.”

Good Texans ought to support good records.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, @BudKennedy.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram

  Comments