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What does the NICS Improvement Act do?

FOR STATES: The NICS Improvement Act has provisions that require states to meet specified goals for completeness of the records submitted to the Attorney General on individuals prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms. The records covered include automated information needed by the NICS to identify felony convictions, felony indictments, fugitives from justice, drug arrests and convictions, federally prohibiting mental health adjudications and commitments, domestic violence protection orders, and misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence. 

The Act provides for a number of incentives for states to meet the goals it sets for greater record completeness.

-- First, the Act allows states to obtain a waiver, beginning in 2011, of the National Criminal History Record Improvement Program's (NCHIP) state matching requirement, if a state provides at least 90 percent of its records identifying the specified prohibited persons.

-- Second, the Act authorizes grant programs to be administered consistent with NCHIP, for state executive and judicial agencies to establish and upgrade information automation and identification technologies for timely submission of final criminal record dispositions and other information relevant to NICS checks. Up to 5 percent of the grants may be reserved for Indian tribal governments and judicial systems. For Fiscal Year 2009, $10 million has been appropriated.

-- Finally, the Act provides for discretionary and mandatory Byrne grant penalties for non-compliance with record completeness requirements: after 3 years, 3 percent may be withheld in the case of less than 50 percent completeness; after 5 years, 4 percent may be withheld in the case of less than 70 percent completeness; and after 10 years, 5 percent shall be withheld in the case of less than 90 percent completeness (although the mandatory reduction can be waived if there is substantial evidence of the state making a reasonable effort to comply).

IN THE FEDERAL SYSTEM: The NICS Improvement Act creates an independent statutory obligation for federal agencies to report records identifying prohibited persons to the Attorney General. It also requires that federal agencies that issue prohibiting mental health adjudications or commitments establish a program under which a person subject to such an adjudication or commitment can apply for relief from his or her firearms disability according to standards under 18 U.S.C. 925(c). Additionally, the Act provides that a prohibiting adjudication or commitment issued by a federal agency or department may be nullified in certain instances by a qualified set aside, expungement, release from mandatory treatment, or other specified means.

CHANGE TO THE MENTAL HEALTH PROHIBITOR: Prior to the NICS Improvement Act, section 922(g)(4) was effectively a lifetime prohibition on possessing firearms by any person "who had been adjudicated a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution." The Act, however, provides that when relief is granted under a federal or state relief from disabilities program that meets the requirements of the Act, or when certain automatic relief conditions are met with respect to persons federally adjudicated or committed, the event giving rise to the mental health disability is "deemed not to have occurred" for purposes of the federal firearm prohibition.

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