FBI system to check gun buyers misfires

The background-checking system the FBI uses to screen prospective gun buyers crashed several times late Nov. 26 and early Nov. 27, according to bureau officials.

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), based in Clarksburg, W.Va., checks the records of people seeking to buy guns by using the National Crime Information Center and the Interstate Identification Index.

The system was down for a total of about 30 minutes, but the outages could have caused significant delays in the background-checking process. Consequently, the delays could have prevented someone from buying a gun or led a seller to sell a gun without waiting for the process to finish.

FBI spokesman Paul Bresson revealed few technical details of the crash, but he said the service interruption “was a performance error we've never encountered before.”

“It wasn't that we had made any changes or otherwise to the system; the performance just stopped,” he said.

Officials repaired the problem by changing the server’s configuration parameters.

“We haven't experienced any problems at all since yesterday,” Bresson said.

NICS processes 30,000 to 50,000 background inquiries a day, with weekends being the peak use times. Each request takes roughly a half-hour to complete. The holiday and ongoing hunting season have caused a surge in background checks, but Bresson said the timing of the crashes suggests that increased server volume probably was not a factor in the glitch.

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