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Senators Introduce Bipartisan Deal To Tighten Reporting For Gun Purchases

Updated at 10:14 a.m. ET

A bipartisan measure aimed at improving background checks for gun sales has been introduced in the Senate, following a mass shooting in Texas that officials say might have been prevented if the gunman's conviction on assault charges had been flagged in a national database.

A group of senators led by Texas Republican John Cornyn announced the legislation on Thursday. The bill is supported by a total of four Democrats and four Republicans: Cornyn as well as Chris Murphy, D-Conn.; Tim Scott, R-S.C.; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Dean Heller, R-Nev.; and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

The bill is meant to "ensure federal and state authorities comply with existing law and accurately report relevant criminal history records" to databases used in gun-purchase background checks. It "penalizes federal agencies who fail to properly report relevant records and incentivizes states to improve their overall reporting" while providing more funding to track domestic violence.

On Wednesday, Murphy tweeted: "Big news: super close to a bipartisan breakthrough on gun legislation. Stay tuned..."

Earlier this month, Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire on a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing more than two dozen people. It was later revealed that Kelley, a former airman, had been court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his then-wife and stepson, but that the Air Force failed to report his conviction to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

As NPR reported the day after the shooting: "Under federal law, his conviction disqualified him from legally possessing a firearm. But there was an apparent breakdown in getting information about his conviction to the proper federal database."

Last week, Cornyn said he would introduce legislation to ensure that all federal departments and agencies send conviction records to NICS.

"My hope is that we can expedite consideration of this, get it into law, and then make sure that this sort of thing never happens again," Cornyn told reporters, according to The Hill.

"This individual should not have been able to legally purchase a firearm. We have a background check system, which is designed to weed out people with mental illness, people who are convicted felons, people who are child and spouse abusers, and this individual was all of those things," he said.

In the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six adults were killed, a measure was introduced in 2013 that would, among other provisions, have tightened penalties on states that do not submit electronic records on firearms eligibility to NICS. The measure died in committee.

While this measure reaches across the partisan aisle, it remains a deal brokered between senators, and there is no indication that House Republicans will be eager to pass it.

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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