Ashcroft Proposes Instant Background-Check Changes

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

( - Two gun control groups are joining forces to boost their fund-raising and lobbying abilities, and in an unrelated development, the Bush administration has angered gun control advocates -- and delighted gun owners -- by proposing that instant-background-check records be kept for only one business day instead of 180 days.

The Million Mom March announced it is merging with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (the latter previously went by the name Handgun Control Inc.).

"The alliance sends a clear message that the gun control movement is uniting and targeted," said Sarah Brady, the Brady Campaign's chairwoman. Essentially, the merger provides the Brady campaign with a new list of potential donors.

Also on Thursday, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced plans to improve the nation's instant background check system, which is intended to prevent criminals from buying guns.

Ashcroft ordered the FBI to increase the number of instant background checks it performs, and he said states will get federal grants to fix problems with their criminal history records so the background checks will be more reliable. In some states, the criminal records are incomplete or need updating.

Under the federal Brady law, people who want to buy guns must submit to an instant background check, which usually is done in a matter of minutes. But in some cases instant checks take longer, usually because of state record-keeping problems. The Brady law says gun sales may proceed if a background check does not turn up any criminal records on a would-be gun buyer in three days.

As stipulated by the Brady law, the FBI keeps the background-check records for six months to "audit" them - to make sure people with criminal records haven't slipped through the cracks and mistakenly been allowed to buy guns.

The better the background-check system, the less need there is for the FBI to keep background check records for 180 days, Ashcroft said.

Gun owners agree. They say letting the federal government keep the paperwork for up to six months is tantamount to a national gun registry, and they also consider it an invasion of their privacy.

Ashcroft's proposed changes to the instant background check system will now be issued for public comment. Gun control advocates already accuse him of pandering to the National Rifle Association.