Gun background check system riddled with flaws
Recent mass shootings have spurred the United States Congress to try to improve the nation's gun background check system that has failed on numerous occasions to keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous people.
The problem with the legislation, experts say, is that it only works if Federal agencies, the military, states, courts and local law enforcement do a better job of sharing information with the background check system - and they have a poor track record in doing so.
Some of the nation's most horrific mass shootings have revealed major holes in the database reporting system, including massacres at Virginia Tech in 2007 and at a Texas church last year.
Despite the failures, many states still aren't meeting key benchmarks with their background check reporting that enable them to receive federal grants similar to what's being proposed in the current legislation.
"It's a completely haphazard system - sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't," said Georgetown University law professor Larry Gostin. "When you're talking about school children's lives, rolling the dice isn't good enough," he said.
In theory, the FBI's background check database, tapped by gun dealers during a sale, should have a definitive list of people who are prohibited from having guns people who have been convicted of crimes, committed to mental institutions, received dishonourable discharges or are addicted to drugs.
But in practice, the database is incomplete.
It's up to local police, sheriff's offices, the military, federal and state courts, Indian tribes and in some places, hospitals and treatment providers, to send criminal or mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, but some don't always do so, or they may not send them in a timely fashion.
Some agencies don't know what to send; states often lack funds needed to ensure someone handles the data; no system of audits exists to find out who's not reporting; and some states lack the political will to set up a functioning and efficient reporting process, experts said.
"The system is riddled with opportunities for human error," said Kristin Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.