Gun Control:

Implementation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System

GGD/AIMD-00-64: Published: Feb 29, 2000. Publicly Released: Mar 8, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on a wide variety of topics related to the permanent provisions (phase II) of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, focusing on: (1) statistics on background checks, denials, and appeals; (2) enforcement actions; (3) the National Instant Criminal Background Check System's (NICS) operations; and (4) 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.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To ensure the security of automated systems, OMB requires federal agencies to authorize information systems before their operation and to reauthorize them at least every 3 years thereafter. As of February 2000, the FBI had not yet authorized its National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which became operational in November 1998. In response to the recommendation, the FBI, on March 31, 2000, granted final authorization to NICS.

    Recommendation: Regarding system security, the Attorney General should direct the FBI Director to take appropriate actions to report to the Attorney General and the Department's congressional authorizing committees if NICS is not authorized as planned by March 31, 2000. At a minimum, the report should include the cause for the delays, the impact on the FBI's ability to protect NICS assets, and revised plans for ensuring immediate authorization.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice


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