The FBI computer that performs instant background checks on prospective gun buyers is sluggish and prone to unexplained failures, experts told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on June 21, according to wire service reports.
Glitches in the massive database that records information on about 38 million Americans have blocked law-abiding citizens from purchasing firearms for personal protection and delayed one-quarter of all such transactions, witnesses said during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary committee.
Instead of an instant check, we have a system that too often causes needless delay to law-abiding citizens who are simply exercising their constitutional rights, said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the panels chairman. System outages are a major culprit.
Hatch said he supports the concept of the National Instant Check System (NICS), but blamed the Clinton Administration and the FBI for not running it properly. Some Democrats, including Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), echoed the criticism.
An FBI representative said the agency is trying to fix its technical problems.
The FBIs goal is to minimize system downtime. The FBI recognizes the disruptive effect downtime can have on the business operations of gun dealers and the resulting inconvenience to prospective gun buyers, FBI Assistant Director David Loesch said.
In the 18 months that the NICS has been used, computers have only been down 3% of that time, said Loesch.
But his answer was countered by Robin Ball, co-owner of a shooting range and store in Spokane, WA.
Delays, outages and recorded messages have a very negative impact on the process of doing business, she said. Customers know the system is supposed to be instant and cant understand why they get delayed.
We send an angry customer away who cant complete a transfer, not because of being ineligible to own a gun, but because the governments system is incomplete or unreliable, Ball added.
NICS went fully on-line on Nov. 30, 1998, replacing the Brady Act five-business-day waiting period for handgun buyers only with the instant check system for all firearms purchased from licensees. But the NICS system has not yet lived up to its promise, Hatch said, pointing out that last year computer outages caused 215 hours of down time.
Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dolewho proposed the instant gun check amendment back that led to the NICSalso testified, suggesting improvements.
Loesch used the hearing to pitch for greater funding by saying that the FBI could do better with more resources.
Replied Leahy: I understand how difficult it is to have the resources for everything you need to do. But somewhere along the line you have to have priorities here. Where are you going to put the resources?
Loesch paused, shrugged his shoulders, and said he didnt have an answer.
Investigators at the US General Accounting Office reported that NICS was offline a total of 215 hours from November 1998 to November 1999.
Ball testified that one of her customers had hoped to buy a gun because her ex-husband was about to be released from jail.
The mom asked me how long it would take to buy a gun. I had to tell her, she better plan ahead, because there are no guarantees we can get a background check processed in less than a week, said Robin Ball, owner of the Sharp Shooting Indoor Range. Here is a classic case of a parent trying to do the right thing under very difficult circumstances.
On the same day as the Senate committee hearings, a Treasury Department report prepared by ATF deadling with illegal firearms trafficking was sent to the White Housein part to bolster the Administrations continuing effort for passage of more gun laws and in part to deflect media attention away from the hearing on the Hill.
The report claimed that about 26,000 firearms were illegally diverted from legal sales channels at gun shows and turned up later in crimes ranging from killings to robberies.
Later, at a luncheon to mark the 26th anniversary of Handgun Control Inc., Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, under whose direction ATF operates, accepted the anti-gun lobby groups Lifetime Achievement award on behalf of President Clinton. The award was in recognition of Clintons promotion of restrictive gun laws.
Reports indicate that Handgun Control will play a key role at this years Democrat convention.