Terror lists linked to gun checks

FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System 2001/2002 operational report

Justice Department officials have linked terrorism watch lists to the system that performs background checks to clear gun purchasers, department officials said today.

"We have linked up various terrorist lists to be checked by the [National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)]" a senior Justice Department official said. "But the system is there for the Brady Law. It is used only for preventing prohibited persons [such as felons and illegal aliens] from purchasing firearms, but mere suspicion of criminal activity is not necessarily a prohibitive factor."

For that reason, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is working with the State Department to determine which lists can be legally linked to the FBI's National Crime Information Center index, which is used by the instant background check system.

"Where legally permissible, we have done or are taking steps to include it," the official continued. He could not elaborate on whether no-fly lists could be included in the index, but he did note that the Violent Gang Terrorist Organization File has been integrated.

Improved technology has sped up the process for running checks on gun buyers and increased the number of those immediately cleared or denied for purchase, according to an FBI report released May 29.

Changes to NICS allowed for a 91 percent immediate determination rate, resulting in a "cleared" or "denied" response while the dealer is still on the telephone — a 20 percent increase from the beginning of 2001, according to the FBI's 2001/2002 operational report on NICS.

A senior Justice Department official said the FBI was responding to a June 2001 directive from Attorney General John Ashcroft, and that the goal was 90 percent. Reducing processing speed for the remaining 9 percent of gun buyers depends on improving the criminal records systems at the state and local level. In fiscal 2003 the department will be distributing $48 million to states under the National Criminal History Improvement Program.

"We know it will never be 100 percent because the state of criminal history records is just not there," the official said. "We're still working toward that goal, but this is a significant, significant improvement, if not an overwhelming improvement."

The FBI also added to NICS the capability of searching immigration status information. Six databases belonging to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services have been added to the databases used for illegal alien inquiries. The process was automated in July 2002.

In August 2002, the E-Check system was implemented, allowing licensed gun sellers to perform NICS checks electronically. This option cuts down on call center costs and traffic and provides a more accurate search because the data is entered directly, the report stated.

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