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Federal Gun Background Check System Has Limitations, Flaws

The bipartisan gun control bill being hashed out in the Senate leans heavily on a mistake-plagued bureaucratic workhorse familiar to firearm buyers: the federal background check system. Two reform measures being discussed after the Buffalo and Uvalde massacres — the inclusion of juvenile records in background checks and restrictions on purchases by a wider range of domestic abusers — are dependent on the efficient operation of the check system run by the FBI< which is dealing with a huge surge in gun demand, says the New York Times. “Almost everything they are doing relies on this system. It’s the foundation,” said Mark Collins of Brady, the gun control group that played a role in creating the system in 1993. “The foundation has problems.”

The National Instant Background Check System (NICS) — three interlinked databases containing state and federal records — processed 40 million firearms transactions last year, 88 percent of them within a few minutes, and blocked hundreds of purchases per day attempted by people with criminal records, mental health problems, drug dependency or other factors that prevented them from buying a gun under state or federal law. The system was designed nearly three decades ago to run at a small fraction of its current capacity. It operates with serious built-in limitations inserted by the gun lobby, which pushed to speed up gun sales — inserting a provision that allows dealers to give purchasers their weapons if an investigation is not completed within three business days. While all states participate in the system, it remains technically voluntary, so the federal government has no authority to order states to provide any records — or dictate a timetable for data to be delivered. Many law enforcement officials believe this has contributed to persistent gaps in the system that have been associated with high-profile mass killings and many other less-publicized crimes.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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