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Shaheen joins GOP senators in push to improve gun background checks

New Hampshire’s senior U.S. senator is part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers trying to strengthen the national background check system for weapons purchases.

The move comes less than two weeks after a mass shooting at a Texas church that may have been averted if authorities had reported the shooter’s violent history.

Democrat Jeanne Shaheen joined seven other senators Thursday to introduce the Fix NICS Act.

NICS is the acronym for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is used to check the backgrounds of people trying to buy firearms or explosives.

The bill would penalize federal agencies who fail to properly report relevant criminal history records and gives states incentives to improve their overall reporting to the background check system. The measure also calls for more federal funding toward accurate reporting of domestic violence records.

The move comes 11 days after a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that left 26 dead. The gunman, Devin Kelley, had received a “bad conduct” discharge from the U.S. Air Force four years ago because of a domestic violence charge.

The court-martial conviction should have been reported to the FBI’s background check database, which would have made it harder for Kelley to purchase weapons. But Air Force officials failed to enter Kelley’s report into the system.

“The shooting in Sutherland Springs tragically demonstrated woeful inadequacies in our federal background check system,” Shaheen said. “We urgently need to bolster our efforts to keep guns out of the wrong hands by making sure criminal history in the federal background check system is comprehensive and updated in a timely fashion.”

In an interview with the Monitor, Shaheen lamented that the system “only works as well as the information that’s put into it. And we know that there have been some holes in that information.”

“The legislation is designed to put into place incentives to states to help them with reporting and to hold federal agencies accountable if they don’t provide relevant records,” she said.

Shaheen joins Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Dean Heller of Nevada and Tim Scott of South Carolina, as well as fellow Democratic Sens. Diane Feinstein of California and Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, in co-sponsoring the bill.

The new measure is one of several introduced in the wake of the Texas church shooting and the mass shooting at a country music concert in Las Vegas in October.

Shaheen’s optimistic that this one has a chance of passing through the Senate.

“I think the fact that it’s a bipartisan bill and that it has on it Chris Murphy, who’s been such a leader on this issue, but also (Senate majority whip) John Cornyn, who’s in the Republican leadership in the Senate, bodes very well for our ability to move the bill through the Senate,” she said.

“It has bipartisan co-sponsors from different parts of the country, from different ideological backgrounds, all of whom are saying this is something we ought to all be able to agree on,” Shaheen added.