Gun Control:

Potential Effects of Next-Day Destruction of NICS Background Check Records

GAO-02-653: Published: Jul 10, 2002. Publicly Released: Jul 23, 2002.

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Laurie E. Ekstrand
(202) 512-2758


Office of Public Affairs
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The Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) would be affected if data on the sale of firearms by licensed dealers were destroyed within 24 hours after the transfers were allowed to proceed. Under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, licensed dealers are not to transfer firearms to an individual until a NICS search determines that the transfer will not violate applicable federal or state law. However, if the background check is not completed within 3 business days, the dealer may transfer the firearm. Although routine system audits may not be adversely affected by the proposed requirements for next-day destruction of records, other current uses of NICS records would be affected, with consequences for public safety and NICS operations. The FBI has drafted plans that would address most potential effects of the proposed policy for next-day destruction of records. In developing these plans, the FBI reviewed NICS operations and identified the changes needed in computer systems, work processes, policies, and procedures. According to NICS officials, the FBI would not lose any routine audit capabilities under the proposed policy. On the other hand, a next-day destruction policy would adversely affect certain nonroutine audits of the system. Also, a next-day destruction policy would have public safety implications and could lessen the efficacy of current operations. Finally, a next-day destruction policy would not affect the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms' (ATF) ability to inspect gun dealer records. However, the effect of such a policy on ATF inspection is unclear.

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