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GAO: National Instant Gun Check Failing In Key Areas

Wednesday, March 15, 2000

Washington, D.C.-Results of a General Accounting Office (GAO) investigation, requested by U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas into the National Instant Check System (NICS) for firearm purchases, indicates a variety of significant failures that have kept it from operating as Congress intended. The report on NICS shows that the system has failed to provide "instant" checks 28% of the time, has denied law-abiding citizens the ability to purchase a firearm while prohibited individuals were able to do so, and that federal agencies have failed to investigate a large number of sales to prohibited individuals. Released to the public today, the report on the point-of-sale system created by Congress in 1993 and operated by the FBI since 1998 was requested by Thomas a year ago to establish the effectiveness of NICS. The investigation also illustrates the illusion of passing new laws when current ones are not being operated successfully, Thomas said. "The report paints a sobering picture of a failure by federal agencies to enforce existing gun laws as Congress intended," Thomas said. "The result is that the second amendment rights of law-abiding citizens are being infringed upon while too often criminals seep through without consequence," Thomas said. Specifically the GAO report finds:
  • 1.2 million, or 28 percent, of all federal firearm checks were not instant.
  • 1,505 individuals were denied the opportunity to purchase firearms as a result of FBI examiner error or misidentification.
  • As of Dec. 31, 1999, ATF Headquarters reported that 3,353 prohibited individuals had obtained firearms, but only had active criminal investigations on 110 - or 3.3% of these individuals.
  • The NICS failed to meet its operating accountability standards two-thirds of the time between 11/30/98 and 11/30/99.
  • Although NICS has been operational for 15 months, it has yet to be authorized as secure in accordance with the FBI`s own requirements. Thomas concluded that the new NICS report should weigh heavily in the President`s current push for additional laws to affect gun purchases and address violence. "If during our oversight of current gun control laws it`s found that criminals still get guns and a high number of legal gun purchases are denied, you have to question the effectiveness of additional layers of gun regulation," Thomas said. "We have got to get serious about targeting and prosecuting the criminals and addressing the drug trade that often precipitates violence." In 1993 Congress passed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act that called for the FBI to create the National Instant Check System. This system was designed to instantly screen all firearms purchases from Federally Licensed Firearms dealers. According to a Syracuse University study, from 1992 to 1998 ATF referrals to prosecutors of federal firearms violations have dropped 44%, prosecutions are down by 40% and convictions have dropped 31%.
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