The Homeland Security Department has failed to regularly report the disposition of criminal cases to the FBI background database used to vet firearms buyers, creating a heightened risk that bad actors may wrongly obtain guns, the agency’s internal watchdog warns in a new report.
Homeland’s Office of Inspector General said the department’s failure to consistently report data to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) violated the law in some cases and left a major gap in a background check system designed to stop criminals from getting guns.
“If NICS examiners do not receive disposition data to deny or approve a firearm sale within 3 business days, licensed sellers may transfer firearms at their discretion,” the watchdog warned. “Therefore, DHS not sending disposition data to NICS and its delayed and insufficient responses to FBI inquiries create a risk of wrongful firearms transfers.”
Inspector General Joseph Cuffari said the agency’s compliance was so erratic that DHS ran afoul of the Fix NICS Act of 2018 by submitting at least two semiannual certifications to the Justice Department that were inaccurate.
“This occurred because DHS has no oversight or policy to ensure compliance with NICS reporting requirements,” the report noted. As a result of DHS’ inaccurate certifications, DOJ’s semiannual report to Congress on Fix NICS Act of 2018 compliance was also inaccurate.”
Cuffari’s office recommended four remedies, including:
- Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas create an oversight office to ensure DHS complies with NICS reporting requirements
- Mayorkas establish a mechanism to track and ensure timely responses to NICS inquiries and develop and implement a process to include immigration status at the time of inquiry for immigration-related inquiries
- Mayorkas coordinate with DOJ to better understand NICS semiannual reporting requirements and issue DHS NICS semiannual certification guidance to components
- The U.S. Coast Guard establish a process for the Personnel Service Center to notify the Coast Guard Investigative Service of the completion of dishonorable discharges
DHS said Tuesday it will implement all four ideas.
The report highlighted the department’s inconsistent efforts to report criminal cases to the FBI’s NICS as legally required, including 16 Coast Guard personnel who were discharged for bad behavior that would disqualify them from buying a gun, to immigration services failing in some occasions to flag illegal aliens in the country. Illegal migrants are barred from buying guns under federal law.
“In particular, the components did not consistently update missing information on dispositions, that is, information on the nature and outcome of criminal proceedings,” the report stated. “The components also did not always respond promptly or sufficiently to FBI NICS inquiries.”
“DHS components took more than 3 days to respond or were unresponsive to 126 (59 percent) of 214 NICS inquiries,” the report added. “We attribute these issues to DHS not having a unified policy or plan to ensure the timely updating of dispositions or a mechanism to ensure prompt, sufficient responses to inquiries.