DESTROYING THE NATIONAL INSTANT CHECK SYSTEM
“NRA Looking to Ashcroft to Delete Gun Check Records” revealed the February 15, 2001, edition of CQ Daily Monitor. The article explained that the NRA is hoping that Ashcroft will “move on one of their top priorities: immediate destruction of the paperwork collected as a part of instant background checks on gun buyers.” Despite the fact the NRA lost a lawsuit brought against the Justice Department on this very issue, they have good reason to hope that Ashcroft will grant their wish.
Federal law requires any person who wants to purchase a firearm from a federal firearm licensee to pass an instant background check before the purchase is authorized. The background checks are conducted through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) which is run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The NICS is the foundation of the enforcement mechanism that prevents felons, domestic abusers, and other prohibited persons from purchasing firearms.
The FBI has established a system with an audit log component that keeps records of each check for six months to monitor the NICS for both speed and accuracy. The NRA has advocated immediate destruction of records. According to CQ Daily Monitor, in his written answers to questions posed by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ashcroft “declined to endorse the six-month policy.” Asked if he was “prepared to respect the expertise of the FBI in this matter, Ashcroft responded: ‘I will fully consult with the experienced professionals of the FBI before making an assessment of the best approach to this issue.’”
As a Senator, Ashcroft supported NRA efforts to immediately destroy essential records maintained under the Brady Law’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. NICS serves as the foundation for the background check required under the law. Currently, as noted above, the NICS records are retained for six months because the FBI has determined that to be the time necessary to conduct audits of the system’s accuracy and effectiveness. Implementation of a final rule establishing a 90-day period for retention of records was issued on January 22, 2001. However, the Department of Justice has twice delayed implementation of the final rule.
In response to the document retention policy, the NRA sued the Department of Justice to require the immediate destruction of the records, which would have seriously undermined the effectiveness of the background check system. That case, originally titled NRA v. Reno is now called NRA v. Ashcroft. The NRA suit was dismissed by a federal appeals court on July 11, 2000, and is currently pending in the U.S. Supreme Court. However, Ashcroft, despite being the named defendant in the case, is on record as opposing the position of the Department of Justice and siding with the NRA. On July 21, 1998, he voted for legislation offered by Senator Robert Smith (R-NH) that would have required the FBI to destroy immediately any records relating to an approved handgun transfer.
And at the NRA convention on May 19, 2001, the group’s chief lobbyist, James Jay Baker, hinted that the gun lobby will soon be receiving what it wants from the Attorney General. Said Baker, “Attorney General Ashcroft has also vowed to put the ‘instant’ back in instant check and run the system as Congress intended so that only criminals, not honest citizens, are denied guns. A top-to-bottom review of the National Instant Check System is underway right now.”