- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 30, 2001

Attorney General John Ashcroft, saying Brady Act violators are not being caught in large enough numbers, has ordered U.S. attorneys nationwide to "prosecute to the fullest extent practicable" anyone who attempts to buy a gun illegally.
Mr. Ashcroft said during a press conference this week that, in an attempt to provide law enforcement personnel with the tools they need to enforce the new order, he has 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, the Justice Department will double or triple the number of federal prosecutors devoted to the prosecution of gun crimes, he said.
"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. Violation of these laws carries penalties of up to 10 years in prison."
"The reality, however, is that Brady Act violations are not being prosecuted adequately," he said.
Mr. Ashcroft noted that from Brady's enactment in 1994 through June 5 of this year, the FBI has referred 217,000 attempted illegal gun purchases for investigation. Of these, he said, only 294 persons have been convicted.
"We can, we should, and we must do a better job of preserving the integrity of our gun laws in the eyes of the citizens who are expected to obey these laws," he said.
Mr. Ashcroft also noted that instant background check records currently are being held by governmental and law enforcement agencies up to 180 days, but by next week that time period will be reduced to 90 days under a Clinton administration rule the new Bush administration did not challenge.
The attorney general said the Bush administration eventually will propose that the records 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," he 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.
"This department and each United States attorney is committed to the prosecution of gun crime and to the making sure of the security of our citizens, to the extent possible we can, by prosecuting those crimes aggressively," he said. "With their commitment to enforce gun laws aggressively and the needed improvements to the national criminal background check system, we will reduce gun crime in America."
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has vigorously opposed the government's policy of keeping the records, arguing that it amounts to compiling a national registry of gun owners. The NRA sued the Justice Department to have the records disposed of immediately after background checks were conducted. The suit was dismissed and the Supreme Court last week refused to hear an appeal.
Additional prosecutors, Mr. Ashcroft said, also will be assigned in Phoenix; Los Angeles; Miami; Atlanta; Chicago; New Orleans; Baltimore; Detroit; St. Louis; New York, northern Ohio; Philadelphia; Puerto Rico; Houston; and Milwaukee.
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System electronically reviews millions of law enforcement records while gun buyers are waiting to make their 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 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act requires gun sellers to request background checks on individuals attempting to purchase firearms. The law is named after James Brady, press secretary to President Reagan who was shot in the head and permanently disabled during an assassination attempt on Mr. Reagan in 1981.

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