Bill Would Preserve Gun Background Check Records

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:33 PM EDT

( - Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, has introduced a bill that would allow the FBI to keep background check information on approved gun buyers for 180 days.

Since 2004, records of firearm transactions must be destroyed within 24 hours after those transactions are approved. (Prior to 2004, the FBI retained the records for 90 days.)

Second Amendment supporters strongly oppose the retention of lawful gun sale records, seeing it as a step toward creating a national gun registration list. When the National Instant Criminal Background Check System began running at the end of 1998, the FBI said it would "not be used to establish a federal firearm registry" and that all information resulting in legal firearm transfers would be destroyed.

Sen. Lautenberg's bill, the Preserving Records of Terrorist & Criminal Transactions (PROTECT) Act of 2008, also would require the FBI to retain for 10 years all background check records in cases where a would-be gun buyer's name is matched to a federal terrorist watch list. (Lautenberg tried to close the "terrorist loophole" in 2005, but the bill was never passed.)

Lautenberg said his PROTECT Act of 2008 would help law enforcement officials prevent "gun crimes" and terrorist acts.

"It makes no sense to destroy data that links a gun purchase to its buyer and seller," Lautenberg said in a news release. "Preserving background check information would allow law enforcement to do its job and keep guns out of the wrong hands. We must overturn the ill-conceived law mandating destruction of this data so we can successfully combat gun violence and terrorism in America."

Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, thanked Lautenberg for introducing "this sensible legislation."

"Most Americans cannot believe that a known or suspected terrorist can go through the Brady background check system and still buy guns," Helmke said. "By strengthening federal record retention laws, Senator Lautenberg's bill will help stop terrorists and dangerous criminals from getting guns."

The FBI currently keeps background check records of guns allowed to be sold to known and suspected terrorists for 90 days. If, at the end of the 90-day period, the FBI still has not found any reason to prohibit the purchase -- such as a felony conviction or fugitive status -- all records related to the purchase are destroyed.

Being on a terrorism watch list does not mean you really are a terrorist -- and therefore, your right to buy or own a gun should not be infringed, Second Amendment supporters have argued.

The Brady Law requires federally licensed gun dealers to conduct background checks on gun buyers within three business days, using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

Once the gun sale is approved, the FBI must destroy the records generated by the NICS within 24 hours, as required by a rider attached to appropriations bills each year since 2004.

Lautenberg says the 24-hour destruction requirement hinders the FBI's ability to verify that gun dealers are conducting background checks properly and to retrieve guns from those who are later found to be barred from having them.

He points to a 2002 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study in which the FBI, over a six-month period, used retained gun sales records to retrieve more than 200 illegally possessed guns.

Sen. Lautenberg's bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Carl Levin (D-MI), Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jack Reed (D-RI) and Charles Schumer (D-NY).

See Earlier Stories:
Bush Signs Bill Improving Gun Background Checks (9 Jan. 2008)
Democrats' Bill Addresses Background Checks for Gun Buyers (23 Apr. 2007)
Gun Control Bill Seeks to Close 'Terror Gap' (2 May 2007) Beware of Back-Door Gun Registration Scheme, Group Says (9 Mar. 2005)

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