Obama speaks about gun violence.

Obama speaks about gun violence. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Obama Wants to Hire Hundreds More FBI, ATF Staff

White House hopes more analysts and investigators will expedite gun background checks and help better connect the dots to prevent violence.

The Obama administration wants to hire hundreds more federal law enforcement personnel to expedite mandatory background checks on gun buyers, as part of several new executive actions aiming at reducing gun violence.

The FBI will hire more than 230 extra analysts and other staff for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System – the 17-year-old database created to prevent gun sales to those prohibited from obtaining firearms – to help provide round-the-clock processing of background checks and faster notice to local authorities about potential unlawful gun purchases. According to information on the FBI’s website, NICS currently is “customarily available 17 hours a day, seven days a week, including holidays (except Christmas).”

The White House said the new hiring “will begin immediately and increase the existing workforce by 50 percent,” according to a fact sheet on the executive actions. “This will reduce the strain on the NICS system and improve its ability to identify dangerous people who are prohibited from buying a gun before the transfer of a firearm is completed.”

Carol Cratty, an FBI spokeswoman, said by email that the FBI will hire the additional NICS personnel over the next two years. NICS staff work at the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Branch, based in Clarksburg, W. Va.

It’s not clear whether the funding for the new analysts will come from the agency’s fiscal 2016 budget, included in the omnibus Congress passed in December; the administration’s fiscal 2017 budget proposal; or some combination of the two. The FBI did not answer that question. It’s likely that some lawmakers could resist any funding associated with Obama’s executive actions aimed at curbing gun violence unveiled this week.

“The House Appropriations Committee will not provide resources to your department for the development of unlawful limitations on the unambiguous Second Amendment rights of Americans,” wrote Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, in a letter Monday to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, reacting to Obama’s executive actions, first released on Monday. Culberson is chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Justice Department.

Cratty said the workload of NICS has increased steadily since the creation of the database in 1998 “with December 2015 being the highest month on record for background checks.” In addition to more staff, the agency is overhauling the system’s technology to modernize it to handle expedited processing. The FBI also is working with “federal, state, local and tribal partners to gather more complete criminal and mental health records,” Cratty said.

The White House also wants to hire 200 new investigators and agents at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (also part of Justice) to help enforce gun laws, including the measures Obama announced. One of the major “new actions” requires background checks and a license for gun sellers, regardless of location. The move is designed to clarify the current language on the books to close the so-called loophole associated with sales at guns shows and online.

An emotional Obama spoke at the White House on Tuesday about the new measures and gun violence in America in general. The president during his remarks mentioned several shootings, known simply by place, from Columbine to San Bernardino. He became visibly choked up when he mentioned the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults. “Every time I think about those kids it gets me mad,” Obama said, wiping away tears. “And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day.”

The White House fact sheet said Obama plans to request the funding for the extra ATF personnel in his fiscal 2017 budget proposal. The agency also is allocating $4 million and more staff to “enhance” the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network, a database that analysts and investigators use to track violent crime across communities to find common perpetrators.

The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association said it supported the hiring of more FBI analysts and ATF agents to address gun violence. “At the core, gun violence begins with the thwarting of the illegal trafficking of guns and apprehension of those prohibited from possessing them,” said Don Mihalek, FLEOA legislative director. “In order to do so, we need enough boots on the ground, and over the last few years, congressional cuts have also cut to the core of those agencies capacity to investigate and stop these types of crimes.”

Justice isn’t the only department tasked with a greater role in executing Obama’s executive initiatives. The Social Security Administration will share information in its records with NICS about beneficiaries prohibited from having firearms, the administration said.

“The reporting that SSA, in consultation with the Department of Justice, is expected to require will cover appropriate records of the approximately 75,000 people each year who have a documented mental health issue, receive disability benefits, and are unable to manage those benefits because of their mental impairment, or who have been found by a state or federal court to be legally incompetent,” said the White House fact sheet. Proposed rules on the change also will “provide a mechanism for people to seek relief from the federal prohibition on possessing a firearm for reasons related to mental health.”

Obama also wants Justice, Defense and Homeland Security to conduct and sponsor research into gun safety technology – also known as smart guns – to reduce the number of accidental shootings and improve oversight of lost and stolen firearms.

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