WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump’s newly unveiled budget would cut millions of dollars from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which gun dealers use to verify if someone is banned from buying a gun before selling it to them.
Buried on Page 719 of his fiscal year 2019 budget, released Monday, the president calls for cuts to the National Criminal Records History Improvement Program and the NICS Act Record Improvement Program. Both provide federal grants to states to help them improve their reporting of criminal records and protection orders to the national database for background checks, including domestic violence records.
The two programs are currently budgeted at $73 million. Trump’s budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 would slash their funding to $61 million, which amounts to a 16 percent cut.
(Why do the numbers in the infographic jump around so much from 2017 to 2019? A House Appropriations Committee staffer said it’s unclear, but notes the 2017 figure reflects what the Justice Department actually spent while the 2018 and 2019 figures reflect what Trump requested.)
Gun control advocates say these federal grants have been “critical funding sources” for states trying to routinely submit comprehensive records to the national background check database.
“President Trump claims that he wants to build ‘a safe, strong, and proud America’ but his actions do not live up to his words,” said Robin Lloyd of Giffords, the gun safety group founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), who survived a gunshot to the head in 2011.
“Instead of strengthening the nation’s background check system to make sure it effectively keeps guns out of dangerous hands, he slashed funding to this critically important system, which will significantly undermine its effectiveness,” Lloyd said.
There are about 30 million reasons why Trump would want to weaken gun safety measures. That’s roughly how many dollars the National Rifle Association spent helping to elect him president. His proposed cuts are also wildly out of step with polls showing near-universal support for strengthening background checks to apply to all gun sales, not just those done by licensed firearms dealers.
The president’s budget, however, is more an overview of White House priorities than it is a document that translates into law. Republicans in Congress will use Trump’s proposal as a baseline but come up with their own government spending levels when they put forward annual appropriation bills.
Trump’s call for cutting funds for gun background checks comes just three months after a mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, involving a gunman who was prohibited from buying or owning firearms because of a domestic violence conviction but who had a gun nonetheless because the Air Force failed to enter his conviction into the national criminal background check database. The error has prompted the Air Force to begin a review.
Mass shootings are now a regular occurrence in the country ― and so is Congress’ inaction on it. There have already been 30 mass shootings and 18 school shootings in 2018. Republican leaders in Congress routinely offer “thoughts and prayers” in response to each shooting but don’t follow up with any policy changes aimed at stemming gun violence.
Another mass shooting took place as this article was being written Wednesday. This one was at a high school in Parkland, Florida. At least 17 people died and many others were injured.
This story has been updated with additional explanation about the infographic.