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Amid other news out of Washington last week, a bipartisan bill to strengthen background checks on would-be gun purchasers didn’t get much attention when it was introduced on March 5. We think it should.

Republican senators Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Marco Rubio of Florida, along with Democrats Chris Coons of Delaware and Bill Nelson of Florida, are the sponsors of the NICS Denial Notification Act. NICS is the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The bill has four co-sponsors, two Republicans (Lindsey Graham, S.C., and John Cornyn, Texas) and two Democrats (Tammy Duckworth, Ill., and Claire McCaskill, Mo.).

The legislation’s intent is to assist states with enforcing existing laws against individuals who attempt to purchase guns but have no legal right to do so. The act would require federal authorities to alert state law enforcement within 24 hours when individuals “lie and try” to purchase firearms, which the bill’s sponsors say can be a warning sign of criminal behavior.

Federal officials are notified when individuals who are legally prohibited from purchasing a firearm (such as convicted felons, fugitives, and domestic abusers) try to buy a gun but fail an NICS background check. These attempted purchases often violate federal and state laws. Unfortunately, the federal government rarely prosecutes any of these individuals, according to a news release from Toomey’s office.

In the 13 states that run their own background checks using the FBI’s NICS system, state authorities are aware when prohibited persons fail background checks and can have state law enforcement investigate these cases. However, in the 37 states and the District of Columbia that rely on the FBI to run some or all of their background checks, state authorities generally are not aware when prohibited persons fail background checks run by the FBI. Individuals who are willing to “lie and try” to buy a gun may be dangerous and willing to obtain guns through other means.

“As a result, these states and D.C. lack critical law enforcement intelligence that they could use to try to keep their communities safe,” Toomey said in the news release.

“This NICS Denial Notification Act requires the FBI to notify state law enforcement within 24 hours when a person who is prohibited from getting a gun, such as convicted felon, lies about their background in an attempt to buy one. That is, in itself, a federal felony and it goes almost entirely unprosecuted now,” Toomey said. “We can make progress on gun safety while respecting the Second Amendment rights of American citizens, including better enforcing existing gun laws and responding to warning signs that we get of criminal behavior. This bipartisan bill is a critical step forward in helping to ensure that our communities can be safe from criminals.”

The NICS Denial Notification Act is reasonable and measured. It has the clear intent of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and of notifying state law enforcement promptly when someone who shouldn’t have greater access to guns is attempting to do so.

It’s the kind of common-sense gun legislation we think the vast majority of Americans would support. We urge our senators, Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin, to help move this bill forward.

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