Speedier gun check system to begin

November 16, 1998|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Store clerks across the Tri-State area soon will be checking out more than the credit cards of customers shopping for guns.

Effective Nov. 30, anyone buying any type of gun in the United States will be subject to a background check and approval by law enforcement officials. The system will eliminate waiting periods.

While federal officials say the requirements will help keep guns out of the hands of criminals, at least one area gun dealer fears it will be ineffective and will offend customers.

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Robert Chaney, owner of Jefferson Sales in Hagerstown, said the background checks are unnecessary.

"Crooks don't come in and buy guns, they steal them," Chaney said.

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, based in Clarksburg, W.Va., was established under the Brady Act approved by Congress in 1993.


The five-day waiting period for handguns defined in the Brady Act was a temporary measure to be used until NICS could be implemented.

The system provides information on people who may be prohibited from receiving or possessing a firearm under federal or state law, according to James V. DeSarno Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division.

Gun dealers will be required to call the agency directly to report information about customers and to get approval for a sale. In some states, gun dealers will contact state police, who will complete the check through the federal agency.

Private sales between individuals also require background checks.

The reporting system was developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and state and local law enforcement agencies.

"NICS will make a difference in lives of Americans and protect them from gun violence. This system will enable us to keep guns out of the hands of felons, fugitives and other disqualified individuals," DeSarno said.

Reaction to the law from local gun dealers has been mixed.

The new system could be a hassle and time consuming, said Tim Stahl, owner of Keystone Sporting Goods, in Hagerstown.

But he said "It won't deter customers from buying."

Stahl said he fears patrons will be offended by having their background checked before a purchase can be finalized.

In addition, Stahl said the reporting system could be flawed.

"It's a new system. It could have bugs," he said.

Dick Pharr, owner of Sparks Sports Center, in Martinsburg, W.Va., said he does not object to the law or expect it to be a deterrent to gun buyers.

"It should not affect sales at all. Law-abiding citizens will willingly go through a vigorous background check to purchase a firearm," he said.

Robert DeMartino, manager of Wal-Mart in Hagerstown, said it is hard to tell whether the sales of long guns has increased in advance of the law going into effect Nov. 30.

"I can't tell if there's been a huge increase because of the time of the year," he said.

Deer hunting season will soon open across the Tri-State area.

The way the system will work in Maryland, gun dealers will contact the state police, who will call NICS for checks on handgun purchases, and the NICS center directly for long guns such as rifles or shotguns, DeSarno said.

Merchants will have the option of calling or using a computer to report to the state police or NICS a buyer's full name, driver's license number, date of birth, race, state of residence and type of gun selected.

The sale will be approved or denied within about 30 seconds, DeSarno said.

A response of "delayed" may mean more identifying information or analysis by law enforcement officials is needed. If a final response is not available within three business days, the Brady Act authorizes the gun dealer to proceed with the sale, DeSarno said.

Those blocked from making a gun purchase can file an appeal.

Records of those approved will be retained for up to six months, DeSarno said.

"We don't have a problem with background checks," said Bill Powers a public affairs official with the National Rifle Association in Fairfax, Va.

However, the NRA does take issue with plans to compile the information.

"It's unlawful for the federal government to keep a central database of gun owners or purchasers," he said.

"We're prepared to challenge it," Powers said.

Powers said the computerized records are unnecessary since gun retailers keep paperwork on every sale.

The NICS Web site addresses privacy and security concerns stating:

"Data stored in the NICS are documented federal data and access to that information is restricted to agencies authorized by the FBI. Extensive measures are taken to ensure the security and integrity of the system's information and agency use. The NICS will not be used to establish a federal firearm registry; information about an inquiry resulting in an allowed transfer will be destroyed."

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