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Growth of NICS ‘Mental Defectives’ Index Category

Courtesy Dean Weingarten

The National Instant Check System, NICS, started operation in 1998. The first numbers that I found available for ‘mental defectives’ were contained in an annual report listing numbers available at the end of 2000. The first 89 thousand people on the list were submitted by the Veterans Administration. In the next report, at the end of 2002, about another 60 thousand individuals had been added from state data bases. In 2004, NICS listed the ‘mental defective’ definition as this . . .

Mental Defectives/Commitments – Persons who have been adjudicated as a mental defective or have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or have been deemed incompetent to handle their own affairs. (This definition is established by 27 C.F.R., §478.11.)

In 2013 NICS lists ‘mental defectives’ as:

Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution;

It is hard to know if the change in definition is substantive or not. This is only from the FBI NICS annual report, but the statute cited in 2013 had changed to 18 U.S.C. §922 (g) (4) instead of the previous 27 C.F.R., §478.11.

The Obama administration put forth a trial balloon to include four million Social Security recipients in the ‘mental defective’ category of the NICS index. That trial balloon was withdrawn after the strong public protest that followed.

The NICS index is one of four databases that the FBI checks when doing a background check. Most of the felony convictions are in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) data base. Here is the explanation of the four data bases from the FBI report in 2013:

The FBI developed the NICS through a cooperative effort with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); the Department of Justice; and local and state law enforcement agencies. On November 30, 1998, the NICS, designed to immediately respond to background check inquiries for prospective firearm transferees, was activated.

For an FFL to initiate a NICS check, the prospective firearms transferee must complete and sign an ATF Form 4473, Firearms Transaction Record. The ATF Form 4473, which collects the subject’s name and descriptive data (e.g., date of birth, sex, race, state of residence, country of citizenship), also elicits information that may immediately indicate to an FFL the subject is a prohibited person, thereby negating the need to continue the processing of the background check.

When an FFL initiates a NICS background check, a name and descriptor search is conducted to identify any matching records in three nationally held databases managed by the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division. The databases searched during the background check process are:

  • Interstate Identification Index (III): The III maintains subject criminal history records. As of December 31, 2013, the III records available to be searched by the NICS during a background check numbered 66,679,543.
  • National Crime Information Center (NCIC): The NCIC contains data on persons who are the subjects of protection orders or active criminal warrants, immigration violators, and others. As of December 31, 2013, the NCIC records available to be searched by the NICS during a background check numbered 5,463,159.
  • NICS Index: The NICS Index, a database created specifically for the NICS, collects and maintains information contributed by local, state, tribal, and federal agencies pertaining to persons prohibited from receiving or possessing a firearm pursuant to state and federal law. Typically, the records maintained in the NICS Index are not available via the III or the NCIC. As of December 31, 2013, there were 11,166,690 records in the NICS Index.
  • Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): The relevant databases of the ICE are searched for non-U.S. citizens attempting to receive firearms in the United States. In 2013, the NICS Section and the Point-of-Contact (POC) states (states that have implemented a state-based NICS program) sent 118,183 such queries to the ICE. From February 2002 to December 31, 2013, the ICE conducted over 517,943 queries in support of the NICS.

The NICS index lists about 1.9 million felons. It’s likely that the bulk of felons are included in the NCIC and III data bases. Here are the links for the sources of the numbers used in the chart above.

NICS ‘Mental Defectives’ number December 31, 2000(pdf):  89,591

December 31, 2002  142,651

December 31, 2004  221,478

December 31, 2005  234,628

December 31, 2006  298,571

December 31, 2007 518,499

December 31, 2008 648,128

December 31, 2009(pdf) 888,807

December 31, 2010(pdf) 1,107,758

December 31, 2011(pdf)   1,364,613

December 31, 2012 1,821,217

December 31, 2013 3,260,730

December 31, 2014(pdf)  3,774,301

©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.
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