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Schumer And Kennedy Move To Register Law-Abiding Gun Owners

Saturday, December 15, 2001

Exploiting the media frenzy over terrorism, U.S. Senators Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) have introduced S. 1788, legislation that seeks to eviscerate the federal law that prohibits creation of a national firearms registry. Their legislation would make National Instant Check System (NICS) records—records on gun purchasers who have cleared the criminal record check—available to "any federal, state or local law enforcement agency in connection with a civilor criminal law enforcement investigation." The anti-gun pair introduced a virtually identical bill, S. 1253, in July.

Kennedy and Schumer introduced their latest bill in response to last week`s decision by the Department of Justice (DOJ) that reaffirmed that the records generated by NICS that do not result in an individual being denied the ability to purchase a firearm cannot be used for anything other than what the Brady Act—which established NICS—allows. Current federal law requires that all records of cleared purchases be destroyed, and although the anti-gun Clinton-Reno DOJ determined it could keep such records in an "audit log" for as long as six months, it also established regulations that specifically prohibit using these records for anything other than auditing NICS. Attorney General John Ashcroft ruled earlier this year that the original intent of the Brady Act`s record destruction requirement demanded more immediate action than the Clinton-Reno six-month time frame, and he established regulations instructing that destruction of the records must take place no later than 24 hours after the purchase—a decision that resulted in bitter attacks in the media and by anti-gun-rights organizations.

Currently, records of felons, fugitives, illegal aliens, drug users—all persons whose possession or purchase of any firearms is a federal crime, and who are blocked by NICS if they attempt to buy firearms—are statutorily required to be kept indefinitely. Those records are always available to law enforcement. Anti-gun extremists have been attempting for weeks to invoke the specter of terrorists acquiring firearms as justification for their attempts to end traditional American gun shows (see NRA-ILA FAX Alerts Vol. 8, Nos. 39, 46, & 48), and now they are doing the same to promote their attempts to create the mechanism to establish a registry of law-abiding gun purchasers.

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre called the Kennedy-Schumer legislation "gun owner registration, plain and simple." He cautioned, "Clearly, this will be the basis of a national firearms-owner computer registry that would profile decent honest citizens, violate their privacy, and provide a locator to assist Kennedy`s and Schumer`s vision of ultimately banning private ownership of firearms. Of more immediate danger are the ‘civil` data sharing provisions in this legislation that will make National Instant Check records on decent law-abiding people available to trial lawyers."

EVP LaPierre went on to ask, "What if Chicago Mayor Daley or the Attorney General in Massachusetts demanded custody of the entire NICS audit log as part of a ‘civil or criminal law enforcement investigation?` You have to think about what a Janet Reno or any future anti-gun-rights Attorney General would do with this power."

Although the Schumer-Kennedy legislation contains provisions for the destruction of NICS audit log records after 90 days, destruction wouldn`t apply to records given to other federal, state or local agencies as part of an ongoing civil or criminal probe. Once the personal information is out of the hands of the feds, it could become part of a permanent record elsewhere, perhaps with the reckless city suits designed to bankrupt the firearms industry.

The attacks on Ashcroft began immediately following his refusal to allow the release of the names of tens of thousands of Americans who had cleared extensive background checks for comparison with lists of the individuals, mostly illegal aliens, who were in custody as part of the government investigation of terrorism. While Ashcroft was simply doing what the law required—protecting the rights of innocent persons—the gun-ban lobby formerly known as HCI actually suggested that the Attorney General turn his back on enforcing the law, and stated Ashcroft should have willfully violated federal law to allow the privacy of law-abiding citizens be invaded.

Even prior to the passage of the Brady Act, federal law specifically forbid "that any system of registration of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or dispositions be established," and when the Brady Act was enacted, further restrictions were written into the law to prevent federal agencies from retaining information on gun purchasers cleared after a federal/state background check. In fact, other than a unique number referencing a lawful firearms transaction, the law demands that the system (NICS) "destroy all records of the system relating to the person or the (firearms) transfer." But these facts are immaterial to anti-gun extremists, and they and their supporters in the media have launched a nationwide campaign attacking Ashcroft, both personally and professionally, for his efforts to remain within the confines of the law while working to fight terrorism.

NRA-ILA Executive Director James Jay Baker warns: "It is imperative that NRA members and firearms owners counter the media hype and explain to their friends and neighbors that this is not about denying law enforcement any records that bear on criminals or terrorists and guns. This is about preserving the privacy rights of decent innocent people." NRA members and the rest of the pro-gun community must contact their federal lawmakers to object to the passage of S. 1788, the Kennedy-Schumer legislation that would turn NICS into a de facto registration system for law-abiding gun purchasers. You can reach your U.S. Representative at (202) 225-3121, and your U.S. Senators at (202) 224-3121. You can also find additional contact information by using our "Write Your Reps" tool.

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