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Firearms: Purchased From Federal Firearm Licensees Using Bogus Identification

GAO-01-427NI Published: Mar 19, 2001. Publicly Released: Mar 21, 2001.
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The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 required the Attorney General of the United States to establish the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Referred to as an instant background check, NICS is a computerized system operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. On the basis of inquiries from federal firearm licensees (FFL), NICS searches the backgrounds of prospective firearms purchasers for criminal and other information that would disqualify them from purchasing firearms. GAO, investigators purchased firearms in five states--Virginia, West Virginia, Montana, New Mexico, and Arizona--using counterfeit driver's licenses with fictitious identifiers. In these states, the FFLs GAO contacted, with the possible exception of one, adhered to existing federal and state law governing such a purchase. GAO found that the instant background check does not positively identify purchasers of firearms. Rather, it is a negative check that cannot ensure that the prospective purchaser is not a felon or other prohibited person whose receipt and possession of a firearm would be unlawful. Similarly, in one state--Virginia--the additional step of requiring a state criminal history was also a negative check. Further when GAO purchased a revolver in one state, the salesperson advised GAO that the NICS check was not required because the firearm had been manufactured more than 100 years ago. GAO also made inquiries of private entities that advertised firearms on the Internet. Of the 10 advertisers GAO contacted, two individuals agreed to sell their firearms with no background checks.

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