Industry and Public
Basically Unaware of Total Overhaul
by Alan Korwin
Do you remember the enormous burst of handgun sales that the Brady law
stimulated? In the days before Brady took effect, factories were working
three shifts to meet the demand. President Clinton was hailed, somewhat
ironically, for bringing about the greatest sales year in the firearms
industry s history.
Well it s about to happen again, this time with long guns.
America is operating under what the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
calls the "temporary" Brady requirements. Waiting periods, white
forms, handgun sales, local background checks these are temporary measures
under federal law 18 USC 922 (s), while preparations take place behind
the scenes. The temporary measures were scheduled to sunset in five years.
How soon those five years have passed.
Beginning on the day that is 60 months after the enactment of the Brady
law, the temporary rules expire so the permanent requirements can take
effect, under 18 USC 922 (t). That date is Nov. 30, 1998, a mere few months
When the permanent Brady rules come on line, all gun sales long guns
and handguns will fall under the federal control of "national instant
background checks." The centralized federalization of all gun-sale
records will be complete.
Technically, the new system cannot kick in until 30 days after the U.S.
Attorney General notifies all FFLs that the National Instant Criminal Background
Check system is up and running. A turf war over who would run the system
has left the FBI in charge and they plan to base the computer operation
out of their Clarksburg, West Virginia data facilities.
Whether the FBI will be ready on time is anyone s guess. Speaking at
the January SHOT show convention in Las Vegas (the largest firearms-industry
show in the world), BATF and other authorities alternately said the system
would definitely be ready, or that they weren t sure, or ask the FBI (which
states in a brochure that they ll be ready). The anti-rights people at
Handgun Control have issued demands that federal authorities step up efforts
to implement the system, which they decry as woefully far behind.
In addition, every Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) in America will now
have to "enroll" with the FBI to use the system. Failure to enroll
would prevent FFLs from legally selling firearms to anyone, under almost
One thing noted by BATF senior counsel Stephen R. Rubenstein, and clearly
stated in the first sentence of the Brady law, is that the temporary requirements
do expire 60 months after enactment (on Nov. 30, 1998). If the insta-check
system isn t up by that time, as Rubenstein correctly noted, there will
be no Brady requirements at all for a period of time. Whether Congress
would allow this to happen is a crucial issue, and the ensuing debates
to create law where there is none presently would bear watching. The expiration
date will provide a leverage point for interested parties to introduce
Once the new system (dubbed NICS by the FBI) is up, an instant national
accounting of gun-sale volume will permanently flow through FBI hands.
Based on mandatory direct contact from dealers, every single purchase,
city by city, will be tabulated. Cleveland has a gun show this weekend,
it will show. Nebraska is slow right now, those numbers, like election
returns, will be available to law enforcement and others privileged to
view the data. Manufacturers who would like to watch retail sales activity
could conceivably glean such data on a minute-by-minute basis though who
will have access to the information is unclear. It will be like no other
sales data collection system in existence in America.
All this commercial data is being collected, of course, in the name
of stopping crime. As the sales information comes flooding in, the FBI
will move into a new arena as the largest, most sophisticated warehouse
of point-of-sale records for any product in the world. The law requires
them to obtain complete ID on all buyers, but then to purge this from their
files. It is unknown if there are loopholes or other conditions that will
allow them to avoid the purge; they have indicated they will destroy "information
about an inquiry resulting in an allowed transfer." As a side note,
fingerprints submitted to the FBI for concealed-carry-license background
checks, despite strict federal bans on registry of gun owners, are cataloged
by the FBI until the applicant reaches 99 years of age, the Bureau reports.
As with the current Brady system, no pursuit of persons denied firearms
is planned. Statistics on the numbers of denials, by the hour or day or
month, will be available of course (though it s not clear if such news
will be released). Whether anyone will be dispatched to investigate any
felons, fugitives or other misfits, who must provide their names and addresses
to get into the system in the first place, is no more likely than under
the current regulations. Under that system, somewhere between 44,000 prohibited
possessors (the BATF number) 186,000 (the Justice Dept. number) and 250,000
(President Clinton s proclaimed number) were denied handgun sales, with
only seven arrests and four prosecutions.
When long guns are added to the handgun totals, an awful lot of dangerous
people may be identified and then left to go about their business. This
puzzles some observers, especially since Attorney General Janet Reno announced
that arrests are down for the second year in a row (despite adding 100,000
new police to departments nationwide). The cost for the new system, which
will catalog every honest sale of a firearm in America, has been set by
Congress at a staggering $200 million per year.
Alan Korwin is a full-time free-lance writer and author of seven books
on gun law, including Gun Laws of America Every Federal Gun Law on the
Books with Plain English Summaries. Permission to reprint this article
is granted to non-profit organizations, provided credit is given to Alan
Korwin, Bloomfield Press, Phoenix, AZ. All others, just call us.