Gun Control

Implementation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System Gao ID: GGD/AIMD-00-64 February 29, 2000

The FBI approved most gun purchases (72 percent) within 30 seconds after buyer information had been entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NCIS)--a computer system designed to provide presale background screening for all types of firearms bought from federal firearms licensees. The remaining 28 percent of the background checks had delayed responses. From a sample of delayed responses handled by an ad hoc selection of examiners, the FBI concluded that most of these responses (80 percent) were resolved within two hours or less and that the rest (20 percent) required several hours or days to resolve. This report (1) provides statistics on background checks, denials, and appeals; (2) describes enforcement actions taken against persons who allegedly falsify their status on firearm-purchase applications; (3) discusses the NCIS' computer system architecture, capacity management system availability, transaction response time, retention of records, monitoring activities, system security authorization, exemptions from the Privacy Act of 1974, and the prospect of making NCIS a fingerprint-base system rather than a name-based system; and (4) discusses pawnshop issues.

GAO noted that: (1) almost 9 million background checks were conducted during the first year of NICS operations; (2) the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted about half of these background checks, and designated state agencies conducted the other half; (3) approximately three-quarters of the background checks done by the FBI resulted in the federal firearms licensees' being allowed to immediately transfer the firearms to the potential buyers; (4) the remainder of the FBI background checks were delayed to allow FBI NICS examiners research time to establish a basis for making proceed or deny determinations; (5) the FBI reported (on the basis of a sample of delayed transactions researched by selected examiners) that for about 80 percent of the delayed transactions, the examiners made a proceed or a deny determination within 2 hours; (6) the remainder of the delayed transactions, 20 percent, took hours or days to reach a determination, generally because the FBI examiners needed to contact local or state resources for additional information; (7) depending upon the circumstances, there are various enforcement actions that the federal government can take against individuals who do not acknowledge their prohibited status on the firearm-purchase form; (8) for example, individuals who knowingly falsify their status on this form can be criminally prosecuted under federal law; (9) nationally, for fiscal year 1999, Executive Office for U.S. Attorney (EOUSA) data indicate that 2,272 defendants charged for alleged firearms related false-statement violations and alleged possession violations were convicted and that 43 percent of these defendants received a sentence in excess of 5 years; (10) EOUSA could not specifically identify how many of these cases involve Brady-related charges; (11) although NICS has been operational for 15 months, it has yet to be authorized as secure in accordance with the Department of Justice's own requirements, and attempts to do so have been delayed; (12) further delays in authorizing NICS will expose the system and the data it processes about individuals to unnecessary risk; and (13) therefore, it is extremely important that the FBI fulfill its commitment to authorize NICS by March 31, 2000.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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