- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Rep. James P. Moran wants the Justice Department to keep instant background check records for gun purchasers for at least 90 days — a move designed to counter Bush administration efforts to cut the time to just one day.

The Virginia Democrat yesterday attached an amendment to a pending appropriations bill giving the FBI at least 90 days — and up to 180 days if necessary — to review the records under the Brady Act's national instant criminal background check system (NICS).

Last week, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced plans to reduce from 180 to 90 days the amount of time the background checks could be maintained by governmental and law-enforcement agencies, but said the administration eventually would propose that the documents be held for just one business day after a sale.

"We believe we can have that kind of accurate auditing in a very quick time frame," Mr. Ashcroft said. "The intent of the law is to protect the privacy of legitimate gun purchasers" and to have the ability to audit gun-purchase records to check for fraud and abuse.

Paul Reagan, spokesman for Mr. Moran, said the proposed legislation would give the FBI and other agencies "time to effectively audit the records." He said the one-day period would not let the FBI find those who purchased handguns illegally through "sham schemes" or "straw buyers."

The FBI, which conducts most of the background checks, has said it needs at least 90 days to audit records to make sure no one used false identification to purchase guns and that no federally licensed firearms dealers abused the system to run background checks on friends or their enemies.

NICS electronically reviews millions of law-enforcement records while gun buyers are waiting to make purchases. Felons, drug users and people subject to domestic-violence restraining orders are among those prohibited from buying guns.

About 70 percent of the checks take about 30 seconds. A small number take longer to allow more time to contact state and local authorities to check records. About 95 percent of all checks are done within two hours.

The background checks have been the subject of intense debate over the past several years between the gun lobby and gun-control advocates, and the proposed Moran legislation is expected to fuel the debate.

The National Rifle Association, at one point, even brought a lawsuit against Attorney General Janet Reno, saying the records should be destroyed immediately after the background checks are completed. The suit was dismissed by the U.S. District Court in Washington and then by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington. The NRA appealed to the Supreme Court, which last week refused to hear the case.

Mr. Ashcroft recently said Brady Act violators were not being caught in large enough numbers and ordered U.S. attorneys nationwide to "prosecute to the fullest extent practicable" anyone who attempts to buy a gun illegally. He assigned 113 new prosecutors in the areas with the highest levels of gun crime including the District of Columbia and eastern Virginia.

In some areas, he doubled or tripled the number of federal prosecutors devoted to the prosecution of gun crimes.

"Federal law makes it a felony for convicted felons and other dangerous persons even to possess a gun," he said. "Federal law also makes it a felony for convicted felons and other dangerous individuals to lie about their records in attempting to buy a gun."

"The reality, however, is that Brady Act violations are not being prosecuted adequately," he said.

Mr. Ashcroft noted that from the law's enactment in 1994 through June 5 of this year, the FBI referred 217,000 attempted illegal gun purchases for investigation. Of these, he said, only 294 persons have been convicted.

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