WASHINGTON (CN) - In the wake of the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newton, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012, President Barack Obama has mandated changes to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and the firearms tracing process, and research on the causes and prevention of gun violence.
Since 1998, the NICS has served as a tool to identify individuals prohibited under state or federal law from owning a firearm. In 2007, a bipartisan effort was made to increase both the "quantity" and "quality" of records made available to the state, federal and tribal authorities, manifesting in the NICS Improvement Act (NIAA). Under the act, executive departments and agencies must upload all relevant information such as criminal history, court decisions regarding mental health, and other information, to databases accessible by the NICS.
"Much progress has been made to identify information generated by agencies that is relevant to determining whether a person is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms, but more must be done," Obama said.
The president's memo included four pages of strategic moves aimed at achieving just that. Some of the provisions include guidance by the Department of Defense in helping agencies identify and share records on a "regular and on-going" basis, and making regular reports to the president on which records have been made available to NICS, including "any obstacles to increasing the percentage of records that are submitted to databases accessible by the NICS," the memo stated.
The memo also established the NICS Consultation and Coordination Working Group, to allow for consultation and coordination between the Department of Justice and the agencies affected by the Attorney General's implementation of the NICS Improvement Act.
Obama's second memo touches on firearms tracing and maximizing the effectiveness of that tool by requiring timely tracing of firearms seized in criminal investigations through the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) and a deadline for agencies to report that proper protocols are in place.
"In addition to being a law enforcement challenge, gun violence is also a serious public health issue that affects thousands of individuals, families and communities across the nation," Obama said.
There are about 30,000 firearm-related deaths in the U.S. every year, according to Obama in his memo. Of that number, he said, 11,000 are homicides.
"Addressing this critical issue requires a comprehensive, multifaceted approach," he said, directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to conduct research on the causes of gun violence, including ways it can be prevented.
"Taking these steps will improve our understanding of the gun violence epidemic and will aid in the continued development of gun violence prevention strategies," Obama said.
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