The director of the FBI told lawmakers that the number of requested background checks for gun purchases has increased dramatically since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and could be severely impacted by sequester budget cuts.
Director Robert Mueller told a House Appropriations panel on Tuesday that background check requests from licensed gun dealers has risen from an average of 54,000 each day to a current level of 81,000 every day since the Connecticut shooting, which killed 20 children and six adults.
The director said the bureau has been able to maintain a 97 percent 3-day completion rate, but that automatic budget cuts under sequestration could pose a serious challenge to uphold that same turnover rate.
Mueller told committee members, who oversee the bureau’s budget, that if Congress passes legislation increasing the number of background checks, the FBI would need to receive roughly double the $100 million it spends every year to maintain the NICS database.
“We would probably have to double that, depending on what legislation comes out of the Congress,” said Mueller.
The FBI chief raised eyebrows when he confirmed for lawmakers that under current statutes, people on the terrorist watchlist are legally allowed to buy guns.
“The reason that those on the terrorist watchlist are not barred from firearms is statutory,” said Mueller.
“I believe that there's legislation that, at least, is being discussed in terms of what more can be done to expand either the prohibited factors or to expand in other ways the use of NICS to bar the sale of guns,” he said.
The NICS background system is housed in the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services and aids licensed firearm dealers in 30 states and Washington, D.C.
President Obama and many Democrats are pushing for legislation that would require background checks for every gun purchase, including those sold by private sellers. Many Republicans and the National Rifle Association (NRA) oppose the proposal, saying that it would create a national database of gun owners in the country.
Updated at 6:27 p.m.