NATIONAL INSTANT CHECK SYSTEM (NICS) IS RUNNING LATE

Janet Reno Misses Key Deadline

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Nov. 18, 1998

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Despite repeated assurances that it was on schedule, the Justice Dept. has effectively missed a deadline required before the National Instant Background Check can legally begin under Part 2 of the Brady law. When Part 1 of Brady expires on Nov. 30, the requirements for waits and background checks will cease, possibly creating a gaping legal hole in national gun controls.

The instant check, or NICS as it is called by the FBI, cannot go into effect--either by law or as a practical matter--until the nation's 60,000 licensed gun dealers have been notified that the system is built and running, and instructed on its use.

A spot check of major dealers nationwide shows that they have not received the required notice, user contracts, new forms or instructions on the system's use. In addition, most states' dealers will have to "enroll" with the FBI in order to stay in business, and dealers report that no contact has been made. The law requires 30 days notice by the Justice Dept., to gun dealers, before the system can begin.

The Justice and Treasury Depts., however, have taken the position that since they published their final regulations in the Federal Register on Oct. 30, the notification requirement has been met. [Note: Those regs will be available on our site shortly.]

As a practical matter, the FBI will need significant lead time to register dealers, and set up direct links with the bigger ones, using a computer system it has built exclusively for this purpose but never actually used.

Dealers were formerly controlled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the switch to FBI control is a major element of Brady 2. In its latest newsletter, ATF advised dealers to discard any supplies of blank forms they may have, and only use new FBI-compliant "4473" gun-sale forms, which dealers have not yet seen.

"NICS first made news when people realized the Brady Handgun Law would control all guns, not just handguns," says Alan Korwin, author of seven books on gun law, including a plain English federal guide, Gun Laws of America. "Next, the big news was that the FBI was taking control from ATF, and planned to use NICS to register gun owners--something ATF has longed for--even though it violates existing laws. But these are minor compared to the fact that Brady will lapse altogether, unless the authorities construct a fix--and their legal leg is wobbly--because dealers have not in fact been notified."

Even if the Justice Dept. prevails, as it probably will, and the obscurely published rules are taken as notification of 60,000 dealers who don't know it, the NICS system clearly is not in place yet, and rumored to be quite late. The Wall Street Journal reported on Nov. 12, with just 11 business days to go, that NICS "isn't finished yet." Theoretically, for each day that passes, the start of Brady 2 is pushed back a day, and the Brady law lapses nationwide. A presidential statement and some sort of quasi-legal patch seems likely.

Bloomfield Press, Korwin's Phoenix-based publisher, has detailed reports on the subject and other gun-law information on its website, http://www.bloomfieldpress.com. They have also posted a detailed schematic diagram of the NICS system.

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