Gun Control:

Improving the National Instant Criminal Background Check System

T-GGD-00-163: Published: Jun 21, 2000. Publicly Released: Jun 21, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the establishment and operation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), focusing on: (1) system availability and responsiveness; (2) type of information available under NICS compared to that available to state and local law enforcement agencies prior to NICS; (3) advantages and disadvantages of NICS background checks being conducted by designated state agencies rather than the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); and (4) the extent to which transactions under NICS have resulted in firearms being sold to persons ineligible to possess a firearm.

GAO noted that: (1) NICS set a goal of being available 98 percent of its scheduled operating time; (2) it met this goal 4 of the months and did not meet it 8 of the months between November 30, 1998, and November 30, 1999; (3) during this time period, about 72 percent of callers received a proceed response within minutes, and the other 28 percent were initially delayed; (4) for about 80 percent of the delayed transactions, FBI examiners took 2 hours or less from the time they received the transaction information to provide a proceed or deny response; (5) establishment of the newly created NICS Index database provides centralized access to data that were not available to state and local agencies prior to NICS; (6) however, the NICS Index does not contain all potentially disqualifying records; (7) state agencies are generally better positioned to perform NICS background checks than the FBI because they may have access to additional data and be better able to interpret their own state records and laws; (8) however, certain barriers have prevented most states from becoming full participants in NICS; (9) during the first 10 months of NICS implementation, 2,519 persons who were sold guns were later determined by the FBI to be prohibited from owning them; and (10) these transactions resulted from NICS background checks that were not completed by the FBI within 3 business days and, according to the provisions of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, the sales were then allowed to proceed by default.

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