The FBI has stopped processing denial appeals through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), leaving a backlog of at least 7,100 appeals. The agency said that the temporary shutdown is due to a severe lack of manpower.
From October to December of 2015, a record 3.3 million firearm sales were run through the NICS, nearly overwhelming the 400 FBI employees that handle background checks from their facility in West Virginia.
“The last several months, we’ve kind of found ourselves in a perfect storm,’’ FBI Assistant Director Stephen Morris told USA Today.
Previously, a division of 70 examiners handled the processing of all denial appeals. The FBI now says that all 70 examiners have been transferred to deal with the immense amount of background checks that the agency has been processing since October. Shorthanded and understaffed, the FBI is now coming under criticism for its growing backlog of appeals.
“Each year thousands of Americans are wrongfully denied their Second Amendment rights when NICS incorrectly determines that they are prohibited from firearm ownership,” stated the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. “Compounding this grave injustice, this week the FBI made public that they have stopped processing NICS denial appeals.”
According to FBI operational reports, more than 90,000 background checks resulted in a denial in 2014. In the same year, the agency received 31,125 applications for appeal. Of those, 4,411 were successfully overturned.
“The Constitution guarantees that an individual cannot be deprived of liberty without the due process of law,” stated the NRA-ILA. “When the FBI, or any other arm of the state, erroneously deprives a person of their rights without due process it should be the paramount concern of the government to correct the error.”
The FBI has not given an estimate on when the agency will start processing appeals again, but is anticipating hiring new examiners soon. One of the key points of President Barack Obama’s new executive actions on gun control was to provide funding for 230 additional examiners and other staff to bolster the NICS. The NRA-ILA commented that this move “has the appearance of being a cynical bargaining chip in the pursuit of more resources.”
FBI examiners would certainly be among the first to welcome new hires. Morris said that since last November, all annual leave for the 400 employees overseeing the NICS has been canceled.