Gun Control: Potential Effects of Next-Day Destruction of NICS Background Check Records (07/10/2002, GAO-02-653}

-------------------------Indexing Terms-------------------------
REPORTNUM:   GAO-02-653
    TITLE:   Gun Control: Potential Effects of Next-Day Destruction of NICS Background Check Records
     DATE:   07/10/2002



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United States General Accounting Office: 
GAO: 

Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight of Government 
Management, Restructuring, and the District of Columbia, Committee on
Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate: 

July 2002: 

Gun Control: 

Potential Effects of Next-Day Destruction of NICS Background Check 
Records: 

GAO-02-653: 

Contents: 

Letter: 

Results in Brief: 

FBI Plans Would Address Most Potential Effects of Next-Day Destruction 
of Records: 

Next-Day Destruction of Records Would Affect Nonroutine Audits and 
Related Support to Law Enforcement: 

Next-Day Destruction of Records Would Have Public Safety Implications: 

Next-Day Destruction of Records Could Lengthen Time Needed to Complete 
Background Checks: 

Next-Day Destruction of Records Would Lessen the FBI�s Ability to 
Respond to Inquiries: 

Effect of a Next-Day Destruction Policy on ATF Inspections of Gun 
Dealer Records is Unclear: 

Agency Comments: 

Appendix I: Retention of National Instant Criminal Background Check 
Records: 

History of NICS Records Retention Periods: 

DOJ�s Current Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: 

Appendix II: Objectives, Scope, and Methodology: 

Objectives: 

Scope and Methodology of our Work: 

Appendix III: Comments from the Department of Justice: 

Table: 

Table 1: Number of Calendar Days Taken to Identify NICS Proceed 
Transactions That Should Have Been Denied (July 3, 2001, through Jan. 
2, 2002): 

Abbreviations: 

ATF: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms: 

DOJ: Department of Justice: 

FBI: Federal Bureau of Investigation: 

NICS: National Instant Criminal Background Check System: 

[End of section] 

United States General Accounting Office: 
Washington, DC 20548: 

July 10, 2002: 

The Honorable Richard J. Durbin: 
Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, 
Restructuring, and the District of Columbia: 
Committee on Governmental Affairs: 
United States Senate: 

Dear Mr. Chairman: 

This report responds to your request for information about how the 
Federal Bureau of Investigation�s (FBI) National Instant Criminal 
Background Check System (NICS) would be affected if records related to
sales of firearms by licensed dealers were destroyed within 24 hours 
after the transfers were allowed to proceed. [Footnote 1] Under the 
Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, licensed dealers generally are 
not to transfer firearms to an individual until a NICS search 
determines that the transfer will not violate applicable federal or 
state law. [Footnote 2] For instance, persons prohibited by federal law 
from receiving a firearm include convicted felons, fugitives, unlawful 
drug users, and aliens illegally or unlawfully in the United States. 
However, if the background check is not completed within 3 business 
days, the dealer is not prohibited from transferring the firearm. 

Under current NICS regulations, records of �allowed� firearms sales can
be retained for up to 90 days in a computer database (i.e., the NICS 
audit log) after which the records must be destroyed. [Footnote 3] The 
audit log contains information related to each background check 
requested by a licensed firearms dealer, including the NICS response 
(e.g., proceed or denied) and the history of all activity related to 
the transaction. According to the NICS regulations, information on 
allowed firearms sales is used only for purposes related to ensuring 
the proper operation of the system or conducting audits of the use of 
the system. Operational uses include evaluating system performance, 
identifying and resolving operational problems, generating statistical 
reports, and supporting the appeals process. System audits, in general, 
are designed to (1) monitor internal employee performance and adherence 
to established procedures and (2) discover misuse, e.g., unauthorized 
checks, or avoidance of the system. 

On July 6, 2001, the Department of Justice (DOJ) published proposed
changes to the NICS regulations [Footnote 4] that would reduce the 
maximum retention period from 90 days to less than 1 day for records of 
allowed firearms sales. [Footnote 5] According to DOJ, the proposed 
changes balance the legitimate privacy interests of law-abiding 
firearms purchasers and the department�s obligation to enforce federal 
laws to prevent prohibited persons from purchasing firearms. The 
proposed next-day destruction policy would not apply to firearms sales 
that are allowed to proceed by default. Rather, records related to 
these �unresolved� transactions could continue to be retained for up to 
90 days. Appendix I contains additional information about retention of 
NICS records and DOJ�s proposed changes to the current NICS 
regulations. 

As agreed with your office, we studied the effects that next-day
destruction of records would have on NICS operations and system audits.
This report provides an overview of the extent to which the FBI�s 
planned changes to NICS operations and routine system audits [Footnote 
6] address the effects of the proposed next-day destruction policy. 
Also, in more detail, this report discusses the effects such a policy 
would have on (1) nonroutine system audits and related support to law 
enforcement agencies; (2) specific aspects of NICS operations, 
including the FBI�s ability to initiate firearm-retrieval actions, the 
time needed to complete background checks, and the FBI�s ability to 
respond to inquiries about completed checks; and (3) the ability of the 
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to inspect gun dealer 
records. 

Our work focused on NICS background checks conducted by the FBI� and 
not those conducted by a state agency�because states that conduct NICS 
checks generally have their own retention laws that may not be affected 
by a federal next-day destruction policy. [Footnote 7] However, such a 
policy would affect states that do not have their own retention laws. 
In performing our work, we interviewed officials from the FBI and ATF, 
and we reviewed documentation they provided us. We also reviewed 
applicable NICS regulations and policy guidance related to uses of the 
audit log. It is important to note that the proposed revisions to the 
current NICS regulations, as well as the FBI�s current plans for 
operating under a next-day destruction policy, could change before the 
final regulations are published. Such changes could affect the 
information contained in this report. We performed our work from August 
2001 to May 2002 in accordance with generally accepted government 
auditing standards. Our scope and methodology is discussed in greater 
detail in appendix II. 

Results in Brief: 

While routine system audits may not be adversely affected by DOJ�s
proposed requirement for next-day destruction of records, other current
uses of NICS records would be affected, with consequences for public
safety and NICS operations. The FBI is considering certain actions to
mitigate these effects but these actions would not cover all 
consequences. 

The FBI has drafted plans that would address most potential effects of 
the proposed policy for next-day destruction of records. In developing 
these plans, the FBI reviewed each area of NICS operations and 
identified the changes needed in computer systems, work processes, 
policies, and procedures. [Footnote 8] According to NICS officials, 
under the FBI�s plans, most areas of NICS operations would not be 
adversely affected. The FBI�s plans also show that many routine audits 
currently conducted monthly or quarterly�such as audits of the accuracy 
of NICS examiners� decisions�would have to be conducted on a real-time 
(hourly or daily) basis by adding more staff and changing procedures. 
NICS officials told us, however, that the FBI would not lose any 
routine audit capabilities under the proposed policy for next-day 
destruction of records. 

On the other hand, a next-day destruction policy would adversely affect
certain nonroutine audits of the system. Specifically, under current DOJ
policy, if a law enforcement agency has information that indicates that 
an individual is prohibited from purchasing firearms under federal law, 
the agency may request that the FBI check whether the name appears in 
NICS records of allowed transfers. If the FBI finds a record showing an 
allowed transfer to a �prohibited person� (e.g., a transfer to an alien 
who is illegally or unlawfully in the United States), that record 
indicates a potential violation of law, and the FBI may disclose the 
record to the appropriate law enforcement entity. These audits of the 
accuracy of responses given by NICS, and the additional (secondary) 
benefit of assisting law enforcement investigations, generally would 
not be possible under a next-day destruction policy. 

Also, a next-day destruction policy would adversely affect some aspects 
of current NICS operations, which would have public safety implications 
and could lessen the efficacy of current operations. Regarding public 
safety, the FBI would lose certain abilities to initiate firearm-
retrieval actions when new information reveals that individuals who 
were approved to purchase firearms should not have been. Specifically, 
during the first 6 months of the current 90-day retention policy, the 
FBI used retained records to initiate 235 firearm-retrieval actions, of 
which 228 (97 percent) could not have been initiated under the proposed 
next-day destruction policy. [Footnote 9] Also, a next-day destruction 
policy could lengthen the time needed to complete background checks and 
place additional burdens on law enforcement agencies, including state 
and local courts, because NICS examiners, while researching new 
transactions, may have to make repeat calls for information that 
otherwise would have been retained in audit log records. Furthermore, 
the FBI would be less able to respond to (1) gun dealer questions about 
completed transactions and (2) purchaser and congressional questions 
related to the NICS appeals process, because information on allowed 
firearms transfers may not be available at the time of inquiry. The FBI 
is considering actions that could partially mitigate the adverse 
effects of a next-day destruction policy on NICS operations. 

Finally, ATF headquarters officials told us that a next-day destruction
policy would not affect ATF�s ability to inspect gun dealer records.
However, our work indicates that the effect of such a policy on ATF
inspections is unclear. For example, under the proposed next-day
destruction policy, NICS records of allowed firearms transfers would no
longer be available for a detailed comparison with dealer records of the
purportedly same transactions. Officials at the five ATF field offices 
we contacted provided mixed views on the value of current comparisons of
NICS records with gun dealer records. If the proposed next-day 
destruction policy is implemented, ATF plans to replace the detailed
comparisons with a �recheck� procedure, under which ATF inspectors
would request that the FBI rerun selected NICS checks based on
information taken from gun dealer records. 

On June 24, 2002, in commenting on a draft of this report, DOJ said that
our primary concern regarding a possible inability to retrieve a 
relatively small number of erroneously transferred firearms was 
unfounded because (1) DOJ is considering an option to retain the 
federal firearms dealer�s identification number for 90 days and (2) ATF 
has ample investigative avenues for retrieving firearms. We disagree; 
our analysis indicates that these may be only partial solutions. 

FBI Plans Would Address Most Potential Effects of Next-Day Destruction
of Records: 

To analyze and address the potential effects of the proposed requirement
for next-day destruction of audit log records, the FBI reviewed all 
areas of NICS operations and has developed or is considering many 
operational and procedural changes. More specifically, the FBI has 
prepared a draft �concept of operations� document, which discusses the 
changes that would be needed in the NICS program. The document addresses
applicable changes and modifications needed in computer systems and
work processes, as well as policies and procedures. For example, the 
draft addresses computer system and procedural changes needed to purge 
NICS audit log records, work process changes needed to monitor examiner
performance, and procedural changes needed to process appealed NICS
transactions. According to NICS officials, under the FBI�s draft plans, 
most areas of NICS operations would not be adversely affected. 

The FBI also has reviewed the types of routine system audits conducted 
by the NICS Program Office�s Internal Assessment Group to determine how 
these audits would be affected by the proposed next-day destruction of
audit log records. [Footnote 10] As a result of this review, the FBI 
plans to modify existing audit procedures, combine current audits for 
efficiency, and develop new audits. The FBI also determined that many 
of the audits would have to be conducted on a real-time (hourly or 
daily) basis, versus the current monthly or quarterly basis. Such 
audits include assessments of examiners� decisions to allow firearms 
transfers to proceed and analyses of the processing of appealed 
transactions. The FBI plans to add 10 staff members to conduct these 
real-time audits, which would bring the total number of audit staff to 
19. According to NICS officials, by modifying audit procedures, 
changing audit schedules, and increasing the number of audit staff, the 
Internal Assessment Group will not lose any routine audit capabilities 
under the proposed next-day destruction of records. 

Next-Day Destruction of Records Would Affect Nonroutine Audits and 
Related Support to Law Enforcement: 

While the NICS Internal Assessment Group may not lose routine audit
capabilities under next-day destruction of records, such a policy would
affect certain nonroutine audits of the system. Without these nonroutine
audits, the FBI would be less able to assist law enforcement 
investigations. Specifically, if a law enforcement agency has 
information that indicates that an individual is prohibited from 
purchasing firearms under federal law, the agency may request that the 
FBI check whether the name appears in NICS records of allowed 
transfers. Under current processes, if the FBI finds a record showing 
an allowed transfer to a prohibited person (e.g., a transfer to an 
alien who is illegally or unlawfully in the United States), that record 
indicates a potential violation of law, and the FBI may disclose the
record to the appropriate law enforcement entity responsible for
investigating, prosecuting, or enforcing that law. An FBI official told 
us that performing such checks has been a longstanding practice used to
audit the accuracy of responses given by NICS, with the additional
(secondary) benefit of assisting law enforcement investigations. 

Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, DOJ�s Office of Legal
Counsel issued a legal opinion that supported this longstanding FBI
practice. [Footnote 11] The October 1, 2001, legal opinion noted that 
checking names of known prohibited persons against audit log records of 
allowed transfers provides a check on the accuracy of responses being 
given by the system and, thus, constitutes an examination and 
verification of the system�s records and the accuracy with which they 
are being handled. In explaining the rationale for permitting the FBI 
to conduct such checks, the legal opinion also noted the following: 

�We gather that although the checking of names the FBI has in mind will 
serve the purpose of auditing the NICS, the more immediate purpose is 
assisting the investigation of the September 11, 2001 terrorist 
attacks. Assisting criminal investigations generally is not one of the 
purposes for which the NICS regulations authorize the FBI to use audit 
log records. Nonetheless, we see nothing in the NICS regulations that 
prohibits the FBI from deriving additional benefits from checking audit 
log records as long as one of the genuine purposes for which the 
checking is carried out is the permitted purpose of auditing the use of 
the system. That the NICS has been using this method of auditing the 
system all along suggests to us that this method is more than simply a 
cover for using audit log records for a purpose other than those 
authorized by the NICS regulations.� 

According to an FBI official, on October 17, 2001, DOJ�s Office of Legal
Policy informed the FBI that DOJ was reviewing the legal opinion and
instructed the FBI to refrain from accessing information in the NICS 
audit log for investigatory purposes pending the outcome of the review. 
The official told us that, in late-December 2001, the Office of Legal 
Policy notified the FBI that, consistent with the legal opinion, a 
search of information in the NICS audit log could be conducted with 
regard to known prohibited persons for auditing purposes. The FBI does 
not maintain data on how often law enforcement agencies request NICS
checks on known prohibited persons, but the FBI official told us that 
such inquiries frequently occur. The official noted, however, that 
performing such checks generally would not be possible given next-day 
destruction of records. 

Next-Day Destruction of Records Would Have Public Safety Implications: 

The proposed policy requiring next-day destruction of NICS records would
lessen the FBI�s ability to initiate firearm-retrieval actions involving
transactions the FBI initially allowed to proceed but subsequently 
changed to denials. [Footnote 12] Specifically, during the first 6 
months of the current 90-day retention policy, the FBI used retained 
records to initiate 235 firearm-retrieval actions related to reversed 
transactions, of which 228 (97 percent) could not have been initiated 
under the proposed next-day destruction policy. [Footnote 13] Such a 
policy also would have affected other NICS transactions in which 
firearms could have been transferred but were not. Further, procedures 
designed to help NICS identify prohibited persons who may be in 
possession of firearms would be adversely affected by next-day 
destruction of records. 

Retained Records Were Used to Initiate Firearm-Retrieval Actions: 

According to NICS officials, after the FBI informs a gun dealer that a
firearm transfer may proceed, the FBI may receive information from a
court, law enforcement agency, or other source that would prohibit the
individual from possessing a firearm. In such cases, after a NICS 
examiner confirms the prohibiting factor, the audit log record showing 
the allowed firearm transfer is changed to a denial. Available records 
(retained under the current 90-day retention policy) are then used to 
(1) identify and contact the gun dealer to verify whether a firearm was 
actually transferred to the prohibited person and, if so, (2) notify 
the local police department�as determined by the purchaser�s 
address�and ATF. In each of these instances, ATF guidance requires that 
ATF open an investigation and coordinate attempted retrieval of the 
firearm with state or local law enforcement to ensure public safety. 

During the first 6 months of the current 90-day retention policy�July 3,
2001, through January 2, 2002�the FBI initiated 235 firearm-retrieval
actions based on information received after NICS examiners initially 
allowed the transfers to proceed. [Footnote 14] FBI data on these 235 
retrieval actions show that an average of 34 calendar days elapsed 
between the FBI�s initial decision to allow the transfers to proceed 
and the date that the FBI reversed the transactions to denials. As 
table 1 shows, of the 235 transactions: 

* 7 (3 percent) were reversed in less than 1 calendar day, the amount of
time records would be maintained under the proposed next-day
destruction of NICS records; 

* 116 (49 percent) were reversed in 30 calendar days or less; and; 

* 192 (82 percent) were reversed in 60 calendar days or less. 

Table 1: Number of Calendar Days Taken to Identify NICS Proceed 
Transactions That Should Have Been Denied (July 3, 2001 through Jan. 2, 
2002): 

Time to deny transactions: Less than 1 day: 
Transactions, Number: 7
Transactions, Percent: 3; 
Cumulative transactions, Number: 7; 
Cumulative transactions, Percent: 3. 

Time to deny transactions: 1 to 10 days; 
Transactions, Number: 46; 
Transactions, Percent: 20
Cumulative transactions, Number: 53; 
Cumulative transactions, Percent: 23. 

Time to deny transactions: 11 to 20 days; 
Transactions, Number: 37; 
Transactions, Percent: 16; 
Cumulative transactions, Number: 90; 
Cumulative transactions, Percent: 38. 

Time to deny transactions: 21 to 30 days; 
Transactions, Number: 26; 
Transactions, Percent: 11; 
Cumulative transactions, Number: 116; 
Cumulative transactions, Percent: 49. 

Time to deny transactions: 31 to 40 days; 
Transactions, Number: 26; 
Transactions, Percent: 11; 
Cumulative transactions, Number: 142; 
Cumulative transactions, Percent: 60. 

Time to deny transactions: 41 to 50 days; 
Transactions, Number: 33; 
Transactions, Percent: 14; 
Cumulative transactions, Number: 175; 
Cumulative transactions, Percent: 74. 

Time to deny transactions: 51 to 60 days; 
Transactions, Number: 17; 
Transactions, Percent: 7; 
Cumulative transactions, Number: 192; 
Cumulative transactions, Percent: 82. 

Time to deny transactions: 61 to 70 days; 
Transactions, Number: 25; 
Transactions, Percent: 11; 
Cumulative transactions, Number: 217; 
Cumulative transactions, Percent: 92. 

Time to deny transactions: 71 to 80 days[A]; 
Transactions, Number: 18; 
Transactions, Percent: 8; 
Cumulative transactions, Number: 235; 
Cumulative transactions, Percent: 100. 

Time to deny transactions: Total; 
Transactions, Number: 235; 
Transactions, Percent: 101. 
Cumulative transactions, Number: [Empty]; 
Cumulative transactions, Percent: [Empty]. 

Note: Percentages do not add to 100 due to rounding. 

[A] Currently, NICS records of allowed firearms transfers are subject 
to a 90-day retention period. However, in order to maintain 10 full 
days of backup data without violating the 90-day retention period, NICS 
purges all �proceed� data from the on-line system after 80 days. 

Source: GAO analysis of FBI data. 

[End of section] 

As shown in table 1, the FBI reversed 7 (3 percent) of the 235 
transactions from proceeds to denials in less than 1 calendar day. 
Thus, firearm-retrieval actions related to these 7 transactions would 
not have been affected if the proposed policy requiring next-day 
destruction of records had been in place. However, a large majority�228 
(97 percent) of the 235 transactions�would have been affected by such a 
policy. More specifically, under the proposed next-day destruction 
policy, records related to the 228 transactions would have been 
destroyed before the FBI received the information that was used to 
reverse the transactions to denials. As a result, according to NICS 
officials, the FBI could not have initiated firearm-retrieval actions 
related to these 228 transactions. [Footnote 15] NICS officials 
provided the following examples: 

* In September 2001, a man had his firearm purchase delayed while a 
NICS examiner researched several criminal history charges, all of which 
were found to be nondisqualifying misdemeanors. Finding no prohibiting 
record, the examiner advised the gun dealer that the transaction could 
proceed. The same individual attempted to purchase another firearm in 
October 2001 and was again delayed. The NICS examiner researching the 
second transaction found a protection order (a prohibiting record) in a 
criminal history database that had been issued in January 2001 but had 
not been posted to the database at the time the FBI allowed the first 
firearm transfer to proceed. The examiner denied the second 
transaction, and a firearm-retrieval action was initiated for the first 
transaction. 

* In November 2001, a woman whose criminal history record showed an 
arrest for third-degree domestic battery had her firearm purchase 
delayed while a NICS examiner researched the charge. The examiner 
contacted a municipal court and a local police department to obtain 
additional information, including the relationship of the parties 
involved in the incident. The court responded that the woman was 
convicted but that the charge was not domestic-violence related. 
Because of this information, the examiner advised the gun dealer that
the transaction could proceed. Three days later, the examiner received
the police report on the incident, which showed that the assault was on
the woman�s husband. A firearm-retrieval action was initiated. 

According to DOJ�s Office of Legal Policy, the problem of erroneous 
firearms transfers stems from incomplete or inaccurate criminal history 
records and will diminish as the states improve their criminal record 
systems. The office noted that DOJ�s National Criminal History 
Improvement Program will award $39 million to the states in fiscal year
2002 to improve their record systems, and, for fiscal year 2003, the
President�s budget requests $63 million for this purpose. The office 
also noted that the Attorney General has directed the Bureau of Justice
Statistics to study and recommend ways to target these grants to improve
the accuracy of criminal history records, as well as records relating to
adjudicated mental incapacity and domestic violence. 

While states are continuing to automate and otherwise improve the 
completeness and accessibility of their criminal history records, this
process has been ongoing since the early 1990s and is still far from
complete. For example, during fiscal years 1995 through 2001, the 
National Criminal History Improvement Program provided over $350 
million in grant funds to assist states to improve the quality and 
accessibility of their criminal history records. However, according to 
a recent Bureau of Justice Statistics report, [Footnote 16] as of July 
2001, a total of about 64 million records were held in state criminal 
history repositories, of which an estimated 23 million (36 percent) 
were not accessible to the FBI for NICS checks. 

According to DOJ�s Office of Legal Policy, in the transition period 
while the states perfect their record systems, DOJ will try to ensure 
that firearms transferred erroneously can be properly retrieved. One 
option under consideration�as part of the proposed policy for next-day 
destruction of records�is to retain the firearms dealer�s 
identification number for 90 days, as well as the NICS transaction 
number and the date of the transaction, which are kept indefinitely. 
Under this option, DOJ explained that (1) when a state agency or other 
external source provides information showing that a proceed was given 
in error, the FBI could use the NICS transaction number and date to 
trace the transaction to the firearms dealer and refer the transaction 
to ATF and (2) ATF could then use the dealer�s record, which provides 
information on the purchaser, to retrieve the firearm. 

Our work indicates, however, that DOJ�s proposed option may be only a
partial solution, because the FBI still may not have been able to 
initiate firearm-retrieval actions for about one-half of the 228 
retrieval actions discussed above. NICS officials explained that when a 
state agency or other external source provides information showing that 
a transfer should be denied, the FBI uses this information to determine 
if the audit log contains prior records of allowed transfers for the 
same individual that also should have been denied. If so, the FBI will 
reverse the prior transactions to denials and initiate a retrieval 
action if firearms were transferred. NICS officials told us that DOJ�s 
proposal to temporarily retain (for 90 days) the firearms dealer�s 
identification number generally would not allow the FBI to link the 
prohibiting information from one transaction to a prior transaction 
that also should have been denied. Rather, the individual�s name or 
other personal identifying information needs to be retained in the 
audit log to make such a link. To reiterate, FBI data show that�of the 
228 firearm-retrieval actions initiated during the period July 3, 2001, 
through January 2, 2002�about one-half were related to prior 
transactions and were initiated using personal identifying information 
retained under the current 90-day retention policy. The FBI generally 
would not have been able to initiate these retrieval actions under 
DOJ�s proposed option. 

Next-Day Destruction of Records Would Have Affected Other Transactions: 

In addition to the 228 transactions that resulted in firearm-retrieval
actions, a policy requiring next-day destruction of records would have 
affected other NICS transactions in which firearms could have been 
transferred but were not. More specifically, during the 6-month period, 
FBI data show that the FBI reversed an additional 179 transactions from 
proceeds to denials 1 or more days after the initial decision to allow 
the transfers to proceed. Thus, firearms could have been transferred to 
prohibited persons in each of these 179 transactions. However, using 
records retained under the current 90-day retention policy, the FBI 
contacted gun dealers and found that firearms were not transferred. 
NICS officials speculated that the primary reason why transfers did not 
occur was because the transactions may have been initially delayed and 
the prospective purchasers did not return to buy the firearms. 

The 228 transactions that resulted in firearm-retrieval actions�as well 
as the 179 transactions that did not involve firearms transfers�were all
�regular proceed� transactions in which the FBI gave gun dealers
affirmative responses that the transfers could proceed. As mentioned
previously, each of these transactions would have been affected by the
proposed policy requiring next-day destruction of records. FBI 
officials noted, however, that the vast majority of firearm-retrieval 
actions initiated by the FBI would not be affected by such a policy. 
[Footnote 17] The officials explained that retrieval actions generally 
involve �default proceed� transactions. [Footnote 18] Such transactions 
occur when the FBI cannot complete a NICS background check within 3 
business days, after which gun dealers are legally allowed to transfer 
firearms without an affirmative response from the FBI as to the 
purchasers� eligibility. Under the proposed changes to the NICS 
regulations, the FBI could retain data for up to 90 days on default 
proceed transactions that have not been resolved with affirmative 
proceed or denial responses. Thus, these transactions would not be 
affected by a policy requiring next-day destruction of records. 

Retained Records Were Used to Research Previous Transaction and Identify
Potential Firearm Retrievals: 

In addition to the firearm-retrieval actions discussed above, the FBI 
has developed procedures that use retained audit log records to identify
prohibited persons who may be in possession of firearms. For example,
under current procedures, when a NICS examiner receives a transaction to
research, the examiner is to search audit log records to determine if
research had previously been done on the individual through a prior
background check. If the examiner�s search finds that an individual has
multiple firearms transactions with different final statuses (e.g., both
proceeds and denials), the examiner is to review each transaction to
ensure that correct decisions were made. If the examiner determines that
an individual had been legally allowed to purchase a firearm in the past
but is currently prohibited from doing so, the examiner is to enter a
comment in the audit log record to alert ATF that the currently 
prohibited person may be in possession of firearms from previous 
transactions initiated within the 90-day retention period. ATF 
officials told us that when ATF is notified of any past purchases by a 
prohibited person, this information is referred to the appropriate ATF 
field office for investigation. 

The FBI does not maintain data on how often these procedures have 
identified prohibited persons in possession of firearms, but FBI 
officials told us that it does occur. The officials noted that next-day 
destruction of records would lessen the effectiveness of these 
procedures in identifying the need for firearm-retrieval actions. 

Next-Day Destruction of Records Could Lengthen Time Needed to Complete
Background Checks: 

As mentioned previously, when a NICS examiner receives a transaction to
research, the examiner is to search the audit log to determine if 
research had previously been done on the individual through a prior 
background check. If research had been done previously, the examiner 
can use this information in making a determination as to whether the 
firearm transaction should proceed or be denied. Under a next-day 
destruction of records policy, NICS examiners would lose the ability to 
reference previous audit log transactions for information that may 
assist in resolving current transactions. 

NICS officials explained that audit log records have a comment field 
that includes the case history of all activity related to the respective
transaction. For example, the comment field may include clarifications
and verifications provided orally by outside law enforcement agencies, 
as well as information related to charges (arrest records) that cannot 
be formally posted to national criminal history databases.19 If the same
individual attempts to purchase another firearm within the current 90-
day retention period, the NICS examiner can access audit log records to
resolve the second transaction. 

Without records of allowed transfers, NICS examiners may have to make
repeat calls to law enforcement agencies, including state and local 
courts, for the same information. This rework could lengthen the amount 
of time needed to complete NICS background checks and may result in 
cases in which the FBI is unable to complete such checks within 3 
business days, after which the firearm transfer is allowed to proceed 
by default. Also, according to NICS officials, states may resist 
performing this rework if they know they provided the same records in 
the past, such as police reports and mental health information. The 
officials noted, however, the same problem applies under the current 90-
day retention policy if, after 90 days, the same information is needed. 
FBI officials told us that the audit log assists NICS examiners in 
resolving current transactions many times each day, although the FBI 
does not maintain data on the extent to which this occurs. 

The impact of losing information from previous NICS transactions may be
partially mitigated by an FBI proposal to create a �voluntary appeals 
file,� which would allow lawful purchasers to request that NICS retain
information to facilitate future NICS transactions. Under this proposal,
individuals who have experienced erroneous delays or denials by the
system will have the option of supplying the FBI with information�such
as name, date of birth, Social Security number, other identifying 
numbers, and any documents�that may clarify their record. Such 
documents may include a governor�s pardon, restoration of rights 
document, or conviction dismissal. Individuals would have to agree to 
have information posted to the voluntary appeals file. 

FBI officials did not know the extent to which individuals would 
actually volunteer information for the appeals file or whether 
individuals would be reluctant to do so based, for example, on concerns 
that such a file could be a registry of gun owners. However, based on 
its analysis of appealed transactions, the FBI plans to add 17 new 
staff members to maintain the voluntary appeals file. 

Next-Day Destruction of Records Would Lessen the FBI�s Ability to 
Respond to Inquiries: 

Next-day destruction of records would lessen the FBI�s ability to 
respond to gun dealer, purchaser, and congressional inquiries related 
to the outcomes of background checks. According to NICS officials, 
licensed gun dealers sometimes call NICS to obtain or confirm proceed 
or denial decisions after the initial notifications. For example, a gun 
dealer�s employee may have forgotten to record the NICS response on the 
firearms transaction form (ATF form 4473) or may have noted the 
response on a piece of paper that was inadvertently thrown away. NICS 
officials told us that such calls primarily come from major retail 
corporations that do a large volume of firearms sales, have a high 
turnover of personnel, hire seasonal employees, or have people filling 
in for gun department employees for short periods of time. The FBI does 
not maintain data on the number of such inquiries received from gun 
dealers, but NICS officials estimated that about three to five calls 
are received each week. Generally, the FBI also would not be able to 
respond to purchaser and congressional inquiries related to proceeded 
transactions. NICS officials explained that such inquiries usually are 
related to the NICS appeals process. For example, a purchaser may 
contact NICS to determine why a proceeded transaction was initially 
delayed. If the proposal for next-day destruction of records is 
implemented, the FBI plans to respond to such inquiries with generic 
letters, simply stating that no information is available. 

Effect of a Next-Day Destruction Policy on ATF Inspections of Gun 
Dealer Records is Unclear: 

According to ATF headquarters officials, although ATF will need to 
adjust procedures related to checking for abuses of NICS if a next-day
destruction policy is adopted, such a policy would not affect ATF�s 
ability to inspect gun dealer records. However, our work indicates that 
the effect of such a policy on ATF inspections is unclear. 

Under current procedures, ATF inspectors are to use a worksheet to
record the total number of NICS background checks a firearms dealer�s
records show were conducted in the 3 months prior to the date of the
inspection, as well as the total number of responses (proceed, denied, 
and delayed) provided by NICS during this time. [Footnote 20] Also, on 
the worksheet, ATF inspectors are to record�for a sample of 
transactions�the date the firearms dealer contacted NICS; the NICS 
transaction number; the transferee�s name, sex, race, date of birth, 
and state of residence; the type of transaction (e.g., transfer of a 
handgun or long gun); and the final response provided by NICS. The 
completed worksheet then is to be forwarded to FBI staff, who are to 
compare the worksheet data to the NICS audit log. Discrepancies are to 
be noted and returned to ATF. 

According to ATF and FBI officials, discrepancies in personal 
identifying information could indicate misuse of the system. For 
example, discrepancies could indicate that a firearms dealer submitted 
inaccurate or false information to NICS for the purpose of avoiding a 
background check on the person to whom the gun was transferred. Also, 
discrepancies could indicate that a firearms dealer used NICS for 
unauthorized purposes, such as running checks on individuals not 
intending to purchase firearms. Current NICS regulations note that it 
is essential to retain information on approved firearms transfers 
temporarily to allow for the possibility of discovering such abuses. 
The regulations further state that, at a minimum, allowing for the 
possibility of audits should have a deterrent effect on certain 
firearms dealers who might otherwise consider abusing the system. The 
ATF worksheet review procedure will no longer be used if the proposal 
for next-day destruction of records is implemented. 

According to ATF headquarters officials, no ATF field office has found 
any NICS violations specifically involving the falsification of 
purchaser names through the worksheet review procedure. Officials at 
the five ATF field offices we contacted (Birmingham, Buffalo, San 
Antonio, Detroit, and Fresno) also told us they had not detected any 
misuse of NICS or identified other significant discrepancies through 
the worksheet reviews. [Footnote 21] The officials noted that the vast 
majority of discrepancies identified during reviews occur because of 
clerical errors made by firearms dealers or ATF inspectors, such as 
dealer errors in recording purchaser information onto firearms 
transaction records or inspector errors in copying this information 
onto worksheets. [Footnote 22] The officials provided mixed views on 
the value of the worksheet reviews. Three of the five officials told us 
that the reviews are useful for monitoring firearms dealers� use of 
NICS and for deterring some firearms dealers from misusing the system. 
According to these three officials, without NICS records of allowed 
firearms transfers, (1) it would be more difficult to identify 
potential misuse of the system and (2) much, if not all, of the 
deterrent value of the worksheet reviews would be lost. Officials from 
the other two field offices told us that the current worksheet reviews 
do not yield useful information. The two officials also noted that the 
reviews have little deterrent value because firearms dealers are not 
aware that their records are being compared with NICS data. However, 
ATF headquarters officials told us they believe firearms dealers are 
aware of ATF�s procedures for conducting inspections of their records. 

According to ATF headquarters officials, under the proposed next-day
destruction policy, the worksheet review procedure would be replaced by
a NICS �recheck� procedure, under which ATF inspectors would request
that the FBI rerun selected NICS checks based on information taken from
gun dealer records. The officials noted that such rechecks would allow
ATF to detect potential misuse of NICS and would serve as a deterrent. 
At the time of our review, ATF was still in the process of developing 
plans for requesting rechecks. Nonetheless, rerunning background checks 
would not allow a detailed comparison of information in NICS records 
with gun dealer records and, thus, may not be conducive to identifying 
or deterring some types of potential system misuse, such as using NICS 
for unauthorized purposes. 

Also, the proposed revisions to the NICS regulations would allow the FBI
to extract information from NICS to create, upon prior written request 
from ATF, individual firearms dealers audit logs that contain not more
than 30 days worth of transactions. The individual audit logs would 
contain the NICS transaction number and the date of inquiry for allowed
transactions, and all information on denied or unresolved transactions.
ATF could then determine if a firearms dealer had requested more or 
fewer background checks than its records indicated, which may reveal
possible misuse of the system. ATF also could determine if a dealer 
sold a firearm to someone the NICS record showed should have been 
denied. 

Agency Comments: 

On June 4, 2002, we provided a draft of this report for comment to DOJ
and the Department of the Treasury. In its written comments, DOJ
emphasized that the statutory authority for retaining records of 
approved firearms transactions extends only to the limited purpose of 
auditing the system to ensure its privacy, accuracy, and proper 
performance. DOJ explained that although information obtained from the 
audit log of approved transfers pursuant to a system audit may be used 
incidentally for investigative or other functions, such secondary use 
cannot replace auditing as the sole permissible purpose for accessing 
information in the audit log of approved transfers. These comments are 
consistent with the information that we are reporting. 

DOJ also said that our primary concern regarding a possible inability to
retrieve a relatively small number of erroneously transferred firearms 
was unfounded for two reasons. First, DOJ reiterated that it was 
considering an option to retain the firearms dealer�s identification 
number for 90 days. Second, DOJ noted that after the FBI has made a 
referral for ATF to retrieve a firearm erroneously transferred to a 
prohibited person, ATF has ample investigative avenues (beyond the 
audit log) to determine whether the prohibited person has other 
firearms that are illegally possessed. Thus, according to DOJ, contrary 
to the conclusion of our report, all erroneously transferred firearms 
could be retrieved. 

We disagree. Our analysis indicates that DOJ�s option and ATF�s
investigative avenues are only partial solutions. As indicated 
previously, FBI data show that�of the 228 firearm-retrieval actions 
initiated during the period July 3, 2001, through January 2, 2002�about 
one-half were initiated using the purchasers� personal identifying 
information retained under the current 90-day retention policy. The FBI 
generally would not have been able to initiate these retrieval actions 
under DOJ�s proposed option of retaining the dealer�s identification 
number but not retaining personal identifying information about the 
respective purchaser. 

Further, we recognize that ATF has various investigative avenues to 
determine if a prohibited person is in possession of firearms. For 
instance, in the course of an investigation, ATF can question the 
individual and examine gun dealer records. However, in many cases, 
absent an FBI referral, ATF would have no reason or basis for opening 
an investigation. Further, expecting ATF agents to probe for illegally 
possessed firearms would not be as effective as the FBI using 
retainable records to notify ATF that firearms definitely have been 
transferred to prohibited persons. 

The full text of DOJ�s comments is reprinted in appendix III. 

The Department of the Treasury and the FBI provided technical comments
and clarifications, which have been incorporated in this report where
appropriate. 

As arranged with your office, unless you publicly announce this report�s
contents earlier, we plan no further distribution until 30 days after 
the date of this report. We will then send copies to the relevant 
congressional committees, the Attorney General, the FBI Director, and 
the ATF Director. We will also make copies available to other 
interested parties upon request. In addition, the report will be 
available at no charge on the GAO Web site at [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov]. 

Please contact me at (202) 512-8777, or Danny Burton at (214) 777-5600, 
if you or your staff have any questions. Other key contributors to this 
report were Philip Caramia, Eric Erdman, Geoffrey Hamilton, Jan 
Montgomery, and Linda Kay Willard. 

Sincerely yours, 

Signed by: 

Laurie E. Ekstrand: 
Director, Justice Issues: 

[End of section] 

Appendix I: Retention of National Instant Criminal Background Check 
Records: 

This appendix provides an overview of the history of retention periods
related to National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)
records. The appendix also summarizes the current Department of Justice
(DOJ) notice of proposed rulemaking, which, among other things, would
require next-day destruction of NICS records related to allowed firearms
transfers. 

History of NICS Records Retention Periods: 

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (Brady Act) required the
Attorney General to establish a national instant criminal background
check system to be contacted by licensed firearms dealers for 
information as to whether the transfer of a firearm would violate 
federal or state law. [Footnote 23] In June 1998, DOJ published the 
initial notice of proposed rulemaking that outlined policies and 
procedures for implementing NICS. [Footnote 24] The proposed rule 
provided that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) would
maintain information on allowed firearms transfers in NICS for 18 
months, after which time the information would be destroyed. Based on 
comments objecting to the proposed 18-month retention period, DOJ 
reexamined the time period needed to perform audits of NICS. 

As a result, the final NICS regulations [Footnote 25] (effective Nov. 
30, 1998) provided that information on allowed firearms transfers may 
be retained for no more than 6 months. [Footnote 26] According to the 
final rule, in light of the statutory requirement that records of 
allowed transfers be destroyed, and the countervailing statutory 
requirement to provide for system privacy and security, the general 
retention period for records of allowed transfers in the NICS audit log 
should be the minimum reasonable period for performing audits on the 
system, but in no event more than 6 months. The final rule also 
provided that such records may be retained for a longer period if 
necessary to pursue identified cases of misuse of the system. Further, 
the rule noted that the FBI shall work toward reducing the retention 
period to the shortest practicable period of time less than 6 months 
that would allow for basic security audits of NICS. 

On March 3, 1999, DOJ issued proposed changes to the NICS regulations
that would reduce the maximum retention period from 6 months to 90
days. [Footnote 27] In making this proposal, DOJ noted that there was 
(1) no formula to determine with precision what retention period would 
be the minimum necessary to allow adequate audits of NICS and (2) no 
historical data regarding the use of NICS that could be analyzed 
because NICS was a new system. According to the proposal, DOJ 
recognized the need for a sufficient period of system activity to be 
audited, as well as time to administer the audits. DOJ concluded that 
90 days was the shortest practicable period of time for retaining 
records of allowed transfers that would permit the performance of basic 
security audits of NICS. DOJ cautioned, however, that the shorter the 
retention period, the less likely it would be that random audits would 
uncover or deter system misuse. This proposal also (1) clarified that 
only the FBI has direct access to the NICS audit log and (2) authorized 
the FBI to extract and provide information from the audit log to the 
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) for use in inspections of 
firearms dealers� records, under certain conditions. [Footnote 28] 

In January 2001, DOJ published the final rule amending the NICS
regulations that reduced the maximum retention period for records of
allowed firearms transfer from 6 months to 90 days. [Footnote 29] 
According to the final rule, many of the comments on the proposed rule 
asserted that the Brady Act required immediate destruction of records 
related to lawful transactions and that retention of this information 
constituted an illegal firearms registry. DOJ noted that (1) the Brady 
Act required the Attorney General to establish an adequate system of 
oversight and review of NICS and (2) the FBI consequently proposed the 
retention of records of approved transactions in an audit log for a 
limited period of time to satisfy the Brady Act�s requirement of 
ensuring the privacy and security of NICS and the proper operation of 
the system. DOJ also noted that although the Brady Act mandates the 
destruction of all personally identified information in NICS associated 
with approved firearms transactions (other than the NICS transaction 
number and the date the number was assigned), the statute does not 
specify a period of time within which records of approvals must be 
destroyed. Further, DOJ noted that the temporarily retained information 
on approved firearms transfers is used only for purposes related to 
discovering misuse or avoidance of the system and the proper operation 
of the system. The final rule also provides that NICS will not be used 
to establish any system for the registration of firearms, firearm 
owners, or firearm transactions or dispositions, except with respect to
persons prohibited from receiving a firearm under federal or state law. 

The final rule reducing the maximum retention period to 90 days was
originally scheduled to take effect on March 5, 2001. However, DOJ
postponed the effective date twice, and set a revised date of July 3, 
2001. According to DOJ, these postponements were prompted by the 
department�s need to conduct a review of the rule and record in light of
the department�s original commitment that it would �work toward 
reducing the retention period to the shortest practicable period of time
less than six months that will allow basic security audits of the NICS.�
Based on this review, DOJ took two related steps. First, DOJ determined
that the final rule implementing the 90-day retention period would take
effect on July 3, 2001. Second, on July 6, 2001, DOJ published a new 
notice of proposed rulemaking to propose further changes in the NICS
regulations, including a proposal for prompt destruction of records of
allowed transactions. These proposed changes are discussed later in this
appendix. 

The temporary retention of NICS records has withstood a legal challenge.
Specifically, in November 1998, the National Rifle Association of 
America, Inc., filed a suit against the U.S. Attorney General 
challenging the temporary retention of audit log data. The association 
argued that the Brady Act required immediate destruction of personal 
information related to firearms transactions. DOJ asserted that 
temporary retention of audit log data for at most 6 months was 
necessary to audit NICS to ensure its accuracy and privacy. In January 
1999, a U.S. district court dismissed the complaint, finding that 
nothing in the Brady Act required immediate destruction and that the 
Attorney General�s construction of the Brady Act was reasonable. In 
July 2000, a U.S. court of appeals affirmed the district court�s 
dismissal, finding that the Brady Act did not prohibit temporary 
retention of information about lawful firearms transactions and that the
Attorney General had reasonably interpreted the Brady Act to permit the 
retention of such information for audit purposes. [Footnote 30] In May 
2001, the Supreme Court declined to hear the National Rifle 
Association�s appeal
from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. 

DOJ�s Current Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: 

On July 6, 2001, DOJ published a notice of proposed rulemaking 
[Footnote 31] that contained five proposals to make additional changes 
in the current NICS regulations. According to DOJ, the proposed changes 
balance the legitimate privacy interests of law-abiding firearms 
purchasers and the department�s obligation to enforce the Brady Act to 
prevent prohibited persons from purchasing firearms. The five proposals 
are summarized below, generally using language contained in the notice 
of proposed rulemaking. At the time of our review, DOJ had not 
published a final rule related to this notice. 

Proposal Number 1: Prompt Destruction of Records of Allowed 
Transactions: 

According to the notice of proposed rulemaking, the first proposal would
amend current NICS regulations to provide for a general rule requiring
prompt destruction of information in the NICS audit log pertaining to
allowed transfers, coupled with specific statutory authority to retain
information in certain situations in order to ensure the security and
integrity of the system. This proposal also would revise and reorganize
existing provisions in current NICS regulations for greater clarity.
This proposal would require the destruction of all information in the 
audit log relating to the lawful purchaser or the transfer (other than 
the NICS transaction number and the date of inquiry) on all allowed 
transactions prior to the start of the next business day following the 
date on which the �proceed� message was received by the initiator of 
the NICS check. [Footnote 31] However, when requested in writing by ATF 
for inspection purposes, this proposal would authorize the FBI to 
retain certain identifier information, such as the firearms dealer 
identifier issued by ATF (see proposal number 2 below). Proposal number 
1 makes no change in the existing provisions of the NICS rules 
pertaining to the retention of records of transactions where the 
transfer was denied because the putative purchaser is prohibited by 
state or federal law from purchasing a firearm. There also is no change 
in the existing provision authorizing the FBI to retain and use 
information pertaining to allowed transfers as long as needed to pursue
cases of identified misuse of the system. 

By keeping all records until the start of the next business day, the 
NICS Operations Center would be able to compile statistics on the 
operation of the system, such as the number of calls per state per day, 
the percentage of checks run on long guns versus handguns, and other 
statistical information that does not include personally identifiable 
information on lawful purchasers. By destroying personally identifiable 
information on allowed transfers before the start of the next business 
day, the NICS Operations Center would have the hours between the close 
of one business day and the start of the next business day to run 
internal audits, amass statistical data, accomplish destruction of the 
necessary records, and carry out other system maintenance with minimal 
disturbance to the system. 

Proposal Number 2: Individual Firearms Dealers Audit Logs: 

Under federal law, firearms dealers are required, prior to transferring 
a firearm to an unlicensed individual, to examine a valid identification
document of the potential purchaser, contact NICS, receive and record
from NICS a unique NICS transaction number, and either receive an
indication that the transaction may proceed or wait until 3 business 
days have passed without receiving a determination from NICS that the 
transfer is denied. [Footnote 33] In addition, federal law outlines 
firearms dealers� record keeping requirements and the authority for ATF 
to review dealer records. [Footnote 34] Specifically, federal law 
provides for ATF inspection or examination, not more than once in any 
12-month period, of the inventory and records of a licensed dealer to 
ensure compliance with federal record keeping requirements. 

This proposal would allow the FBI to extract information from NICS to
create, upon prior written request from ATF in connection with its
inspections of firearms dealers� records, individual firearms dealer 
audit logs that contain not more than 30 days worth of allowed 
transactions from an identified dealer. Such individual audit logs 
would contain, with respect to allowed transfers, the NICS transaction 
number and the date of inquiry. All information on denied transactions 
or unresolved transactions will also be included in the individual 
audit log. The proposal seeks to meet the law enforcement needs of ATF 
and the FBI by providing to ATF, prior to an inspection of an 
identified firearms dealer, information necessary to ensure that the 
dealer is complying with federal requirements to conduct a NICS check 
prior to transferring a firearm to an unlicensed person. Under this 
proposal, ATF would be required to destroy all information on allowed 
transfers within a set period of time (90 days) after the date of 
creation of the individual firearms dealer audit log. NICS would also 
be required to delete other identifier information, such as the firearms
dealer identifier, from the system within 90 days of the date of the
transaction. 

Proposal Number 3: New Definition of �Unresolved� Transaction: 

According to the notice of proposed rulemaking, this proposal would
provide a new definition in NICS regulations pertaining to �unresolved�
transactions, for two reasons. First, in those states in which NICS
performs background checks for firearms dealers, [Footnote 35] if the 
NICS examiner cannot determine within 3 business days whether the 
proposed firearm transfer would violate state or federal law, the 
transaction is designated informally as a �default proceed.� Under 
federal law, the firearms dealer is not prohibited from transferring 
the firearm if NICS has not responded with a denial notification within 
3 business days. [Footnote 36] Despite the fact that 3 business days 
have elapsed, it is the practice of NICS examiners to continue research 
on such transactions for 21 days to determine whether the transaction 
is an actual �proceed� (allowed) or �denied.� Under proposal number 1 
above, the system may be required to purge information concerning 
�default proceeds� after 3 business days. DOJ does not intend this 
result. NICS should retain information on transactions that have not 
been definitively resolved after 3 business days. 

This proposal would create a new internal classification system for
transactions that are �unresolved,� meaning the NICS examiner could not
verify that a �hit� in the database is or is not a disqualifier under 
state or federal law. This classification will allow NICS to maintain 
such unresolved transactions until either (1) a final determination on 
the transaction is reached, resulting in the transaction being changed 
to a �proceed� (prompt destruction) or a �denied� (permanent retention)
status, or (2) the expiration of the retention period for unresolved
transactions. DOJ proposes a retention period of no more than 90 days,
consistent with the retention period under the final rule that took 
effect on July 3, 2001. In cases of unresolved transactions, the NICS 
examiner would continue to respond to a firearms dealer in the same 
manner as is current practice for �default proceeds.� This change does 
not affect the manner or form in which response information is relayed 
by the NICS examiner to the firearms dealer. 

Second, in �point-of-contact� states, a state agency is responsible for
performing background checks for potential gun purchasers, including
contacting NICS as part of that background check. When a state agency
contacts NICS as part of a background check it initiates, NICS presently
records that transaction as an �implied proceed� unless and until the 
state transmits to the system the ultimate determination for that 
transaction (either �proceed� or �denied�). Once again, under a prompt 
destruction alternative, these transactions records could be removed 
from NICS before a final determination is made. In order to have the 
most accurate record of denials in the system, this proposal would 
classify all state-initiated transactions as �unresolved� until the 
state transmits the final determination to NICS. In cases of �proceed� 
or allowed transfers, NICS would be required to destroy such records 
within the time frame discussed in proposal number 1 above. Again, 
records of unresolved transactions would be deleted from the system 
within 90 days. The new category of �unresolved� would not affect a 
firearms dealer�s ability to transfer or not transfer a firearm after 3 
business days but would allow NICS to keep accurate records of the 
precise status of NICS transactions. 

Proposal Number 4: Require Point-of-Contact States to Transmit State
Determinations to NICS: 

According to the notice of proposed rulemaking, under current NICS
regulations, point-of-contact states are encouraged, but not required, 
to provide NICS with the results of background checks indicating that a
firearm transfer is denied. Most point-of-contact states do not 
transmit this information to NICS. This means that a potential 
purchaser could be prohibited under state or federal law (based upon 
information available to a state from records available to that state 
only), yet NICS would not have access to that determination. If the 
prohibited purchaser then traveled to another state and again attempted 
to purchase a firearm, NICS would be unable to stop the prohibited 
purchase. [Footnote 37] 

This proposal would condition participation as a point-of-contact state 
on transmission of state determination information to NICS as soon as 
it is available, so that NICS will have accurate records of all 
prohibited persons. Because state laws vary on how quickly the 
background check must be completed, the proposed rule does not specify 
a particular length of time for transmittal, but instead requires the 
transmittal �upon communication of the determination to the firearms 
dealer or the expiration of any applicable state waiting period.� Until 
NICS receives the determination information, it will identify the 
transaction as unresolved. Determination information from point-of-
contact states would still be subject to the rules governing record 
retention. NICS may not retain information on allowed transfers that 
originate in a point-of-contact state for a longer period of time than 
it may keep information about a NICS-originated allowed transaction. 

Proposal Number 5: Voluntary Appeals File: 

According to the notice of proposed rulemaking, this proposal addresses
those situations in which a lawful firearms purchaser might desire to 
have personal information retained in NICS to avoid confusion or delays 
in future purchases. Because NICS must destroy all identifying 
information on allowed transactions after not more than 90 days (or 
before the start of the next business day under proposal number 1 
above), if a potential purchaser is delayed or denied a firearm and 
then successfully appeals the decision, NICS would not be able to 
retain a record of the appeal and supporting documents. This means that 
if a lawful purchaser has a similar name and date of birth as a 
convicted felon, he or she may be delayed, or denied a purchase, until 
NICS can determine that the lawful purchaser is not the felon. Often, 
this is done through submission of fingerprints. However, under the 
existing retention rules, once that purchase is determined to be 
allowed, NICS cannot retain the information identifying the person as a 
lawful purchaser for more than 90 days and must destroy all identifying 
information relating to the person and the transfer�even if retention 
is requested by the lawful purchaser. Both the NICS Operations Center 
and individual purchasers have requested creation of a mechanism by 
which NICS can keep, upon request of the purchaser, such clarifying
information in a separate computer file within NICS. 

This proposal would allow the creation of a Voluntary Appeals File for 
the purpose of allowing lawful purchasers to request that NICS retain 
such information to facilitate future NICS transactions. Under this 
proposal, potential firearms transferees experiencing erroneous delays 
or denials by the system will have the option to supply the FBI with 
information�such as name, date of birth, Social Security number, any 
other identifying numbers, and any documents�that may clarify their 
records or prove their identity. NICS would be required to destroy any 
records submitted to the Voluntary Appeals File upon written request 
from the individual. Such information could be retained and used by the 
FBI as long as needed to pursue cases of identified misuse of the 
system. 

[End of section] 

Appendix II: Objectives, Scope, and Methodology: 

Objectives: 

Senator Richard J. Durbin, Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight of
Government Management, Restructuring, and the District of Columbia,
Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, requested that we provide
information about how the Federal Bureau of Investigation�s (FBI)
National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) would be
affected if records related to sales of firearms by licensed dealers 
were destroyed within 24 hours after the transfers were allowed to 
proceed. Under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, licensed 
dealers generally are not to transfer firearms to an individual until a 
NICS search determines that the transfer will not violate applicable 
federal or state law. For instance, persons prohibited by federal law 
from receiving a firearm include convicted felons, fugitives, unlawful 
drug users, and aliens illegally or unlawfully in the United States. 
However, if the background check is not completed within 3 business 
days, the sale is allowed to proceed by default. 

Under current NICS regulations, records of allowed firearms sales can be
retained for up to 90 days in a computer database (i.e., the NICS audit 
log), after which the records must be destroyed. The audit log contains
information related to each background check requested by a licensed
firearms dealer, including the NICS response (e.g., proceed or denied) 
and the history of all activity related to the transaction. According 
to the NICS regulations, information on allowed firearms sales is used 
only for purposes related to ensuring the proper operation of the 
system or conducting audits of the use of the system. On July 6, 2001, 
the Department of Justice (DOJ) published proposed changes to the NICS
regulations that would reduce the maximum retention period from 90 days
to less than 1 day for records of allowed firearms sales. [Footnote 38] 

As agreed with the requester, we studied the effects that next-day 
destruction of records would have on NICS operations and system audits.
Our work provides an overview of the extent to which the FBI�s planned
changes to NICS operations and routine system audits address the effects
of the proposed next-day destruction policy. Also, in more detail, our 
work provides information on the effects such a policy would have on 
(1) nonroutine system audits and related support to law enforcement
agencies; (2) specific aspects of NICS operations, including the FBI�s
ability to initiate firearm-retrieval actions, the time needed to 
complete background checks, and the FBI�s ability to respond to 
inquiries about completed checks; and (3) the ability of the Bureau of 
Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to inspect gun dealer records. 

Scope and Methodology of our Work: 

Generally, in performing our work, we met and had various telephone
discussions with officials from the FBI�s NICS Program Office and the
Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg, West
Virginia. During our visit to the program office, we interviewed 
applicable managers and reviewed relevant documents related to NICS 
operations, system audits, and current uses of the audit log. Also, we 
reviewed applicable federal regulations (e.g., NICS regulations and 
related Privacy Act Notices), DOJ and FBI policies and procedures, and 
DOJ�s current proposed changes to the NICS regulations. [Footnote 39] 
Further, we interviewed officials from ATF headquarters and five field 
offices, and we reviewed documentation they provided us. We relied on 
testimonial and documentary evidence�such as agency statistics�provided 
by FBI and ATF officials. We did not fully assess the reliability or 
accuracy of the data provided to us. However, we did discuss the 
sources of data with agency officials, and we worked with them to 
resolve any inconsistencies. Our work focused on how the proposal for 
next-day destruction of records would affect NICS background checks 
conducted by the FBI�and not those conducted by a state agency. 
[Footnote 40] States that conduct NICS checks generally have their own 
retention laws that may not be affected by a federal next-day 
destruction policy. However, such a policy would affect states that do 
not have their own retention laws. 

To obtain information on the extent to which the FBI�s planned changes 
to NICS operations and routine system audits address the effects of the
proposed next-day destruction policy, we interviewed FBI officials and 
reviewed relevant documents related to current NICS operations, 
including NICS operating procedures, operations reports, and audit 
reports. We also reviewed the FBI�s revised draft NICS concept of 
operations document, which addresses operational changes needed to
support a next-day destruction policy. Further, we interviewed officials
from the NICS Program Office�s Internal Assessment Group and reviewed
relevant documents to determine (1) how the audit log is currently used 
to support routine system audits, (2) the results of current system 
audits, (3) how these audits would be affected by a next-day 
destruction policy, and (4) the FBI�s proposed plan for conducting 
routine audits under such a policy. 

To obtain information on the effects the proposed next-day destruction
policy would have on nonroutine system audits and related support to law
enforcement agencies, we interviewed FBI officials and reviewed an
October 1, 2001, DOJ legal opinion on checking the names of prohibited
persons against NICS audit log records of allowed firearms transfers. 

Regarding NICS operations, we studied the effects the proposed next-day
destruction policy would have on the FBI�s ability to initiate firearm-
retrieval actions, and the related public safety implications. 
Specifically, we focused on (1) identifying the number of NICS 
transactions that the FBI initially allowed to proceed but later 
determined should have been denied, (2) determining how many of these 
transactions resulted in the FBI initiating firearm retrieval actions, 
and (3) determining how many of the retrieval actions could not have 
been initiated under the proposed next-day destruction policy. Related 
to these transactions, we obtained data on how the FBI became aware of 
information that resulted in proceeded transactions being changed to 
denials, as well as data on prohibiting offenses related to the 
retrieval actions. We focused on retrieval actions that the FBI 
initiated during the first 6 months of the current 90-day retention 
policy�July 3, 2001, through January 2, 2002. We also reviewed FBI 
procedures that are designed to identify prohibited persons who may be 
in possession of firearms. 

To obtain information on the effects a next-day destruction policy would
have on other aspects of NICS operations, we focused on current 
operations that would be adversely affected (i.e., the time needed to
complete background checks and the FBI�s ability to respond to 
inquiries), while obtaining more general information on capabilities 
that would require operational changes but would not be adversely 
affected. In addition to interviews with FBI officials, the primary 
source of this information was the FBI�s draft NICS concept of 
operations document. In some cases, we had to rely on FBI officials to 
provide estimates and anecdotal information related to the effects of a 
next-day destruction policy on NICS operations, because data on the 
frequency and the specific outcomes of current operations that would be 
adversely affected generally were not comprehensive or readily 
available. 

To obtain information on the effects of a next-day destruction policy on
the ability of ATF to inspect firearms dealers, we interviewed officials
from the NICS Program Office and ATF headquarters, reviewed current
inspection procedures, and obtained information on proposed changes to
the procedures. We also interviewed officials from 5 ATF field offices 
to (1) determine if they had detected any misuse of NICS during their
inspections, (2) obtain their views on the usefulness of current
inspections, and (3) obtain their views on the effects of a next-day
destruction policy on ATF inspections. The 5 ATF field offices were
selected using a two-stage process. First, we identified the 5 ATF field
divisions�out of a total of 23 divisions�that conducted the highest
number of inspections of federal firearms dealers during fiscal year 
2001 (Nashville, Boston, Houston, Detroit, and San Francisco). Within 
each of these divisions, we selected the field office that conducted 
the highest number of inspections during fiscal year 2001 (Birmingham, 
Buffalo, San Antonio, Detroit, and Fresno). 

It is important to note that the proposed revisions to the current NICS
regulations, as well as the FBI�s current plans for operating under a 
next-day destruction policy, could change before the final regulations 
are published. Such changes could affect the information contained in 
this report. 

[End of section] 

Appendix III: Comments from the Department of Justice: 

U.S. Department of Justice: 
Office of Legal Policy: 
Washington, DC 20530: 

June 24, 2002: 

Ms. Laurie Eckstrand: 
Director of Justice Issues: 
General Accounting Office: 
441 G Street, N.W.
Washington, D.0 20548: 

Re: GAO Review of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System 
Audit Log: 

Dear Ms. Eckstrand: 

Thank you for the opportunity to review the final draft of the General 
Accounting Office ("GAO") report entitled "Gun Control: Potential 
Effects of Next-Day Destruction of NICS Background Check Records, GAO-
02-653." This letter constitutes the funnel comments of the Department 
of Justice, and I request that it be included with that report. 

The report makes a number of observations concerning the use of the 
NICS Audit Lug of Approved Transfers for, among other purposes, 
response to investigative or congressional requests for information. We 
note that, under governing regulations "[i]nformation in the NICS Audit 
Log pertaining to allowed transfers may be accessed only by the FBI for 
the purpose of conducting audits of the use, and performance of the 
NICS." 28 C.F.R. 25.9(b)(2). This regulation effectuates the twin 
commands of the Brady Act that the FBI "destroy all records of the 
system" relating to approved transactions, 18 U.S.C. 922(t)(2)(C) and 
that the Attorney General "ensure the privacy and security" of the 
system, 18 U.S.C. 922 (Statutory Note). 

Accordingly, statutory authority for retaining records of approved 
transactions extends only to the limited purpose of auditing the system 
to ensure its prelacy, security, and proper performance. See, e.g., NRA 
v. Ashcroft, 216 F.3d 122, 137-38 (2000) (noting that maintenance of 
the Audit Log is limited "to the minimum reasonable period for 
performing audits on the system"). Although information obtained from 
the Audit Log of Approved Transfers pursuant to a system audit may be 
used incidentally for investigative or other functions, such secondary 
use cannot replace auditing as the sole permissible purpose for 
accessing information in the Audit Log of Approved Transfers. 

Although most of the issues raised in draft report were anticipated by 
the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, National Instant Criminal Background 
Check System, 66 Fed. Reg 35567 (July 6, 2001), or will be addressed in 
the final rule, I will discuss here the GAO's primary concern that, 
under the proposed rule, the FBI would be unable to initiate firearms 
retrievals in cases where a transaction had been erroneously approved. 
In a small number of cases (240 out of 2.5 million checks, or .0096 
percent), the state or local reporting agency will clear the NICS to 
approve a transaction, only to notify the NICS more than 24 hours later 
that its prior communication was in error. 

As I wrote to you on May 14, 2002, this problem stems from incomplete 
or inaccurate state criminal history records and will diminish as the 
states improve their criminal record systems. To that end, the 
Department's National Criminal History Improvement Program (NCHIP) has 
awarded nearly $40 million in FY01 and will award $39 million in FY02 
to the states to improve their record systems. For FY03, the 
President's budget requests $63 million for this purpose. The Attorney 
General has directed the Bureau of Justice Statistics to study and 
recommend ways to target these grants to improve the accuracy of state 
criminal history records, as well as records relating to adjudicated 
mental incapacity and domestic violence. 

Nevertheless, in the transitional period while the states perfect their 
record systems, the Department seeks to ensure that firearms 
transferred erroneously are properly retrieved. One option under 
consideration is, for each transaction, to retain the Federal Firearms 
Licensee number for 90 days as well as the NICS Transaction Number 
("NTN") and date of the transaction, which are kept indefinitely. When 
a state agency provides information showing that a proceed was given in 
error, the FBI can use the NTN and date to trace the transaction to the 
licensee and refer the transaction to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco 
and Firearms ("ATF") to initiate a firearm retrieval. The licensee is 
required to retain ATF Form 4473, Firearms Transaction Record, which 
provides information on the purchaser and transaction that ATF would 
use to retrieve the firearm. This option, and others under 
consideration, would both effectuate the Brady Act's requirement that 
the FBI "destroy all records of the system" relating to personally 
identifiable consumer information of approved transfers and facilitate 
ATF follow-up to ensure effective enforcement of the Gun Control Act. 

Your report acknowledges that this option, if adopted, would enable the 
FBI to identify and, where appropriate, to refer erroneous transfers to 
the ATF to initiate a firearm retrieval. However, your report asserts 
that this option is only a partial solution because it would not allow 
the FBI to "determine if the audit log contains prior records of 
allowed transfers for the same individual that also should have been 
denied." Draft Report at 11 (emphasis added). We note, however, that 
once the FBI has referred for retrieval an erroneous firearm transfer 
to a prohibited person, ATF is not limited in its investigation to that 
particular transaction and has ample investigative avenues (beyond the 
audit log) to determine whether the prohibited person has other 
firearms which he illegally possesses. Keep in mind that the ATF not 
only retrieves erroneously transferred firearms, but also enforces the 
federal ban on possession of any firearms by prohibited persons. Thus, 
contrary to the conclusion of your report, under the option described 
above, the ATF would be able to undertake retrieval of all firearms 
erroneously transferred to the prohibited person and, indeed, other 
firearms that he illegally possesses. 

The Department continues its efforts to finalize the rule and fulfill 
its original commitment to "work toward reducing the retention period 
to the shortest practicable period of time less than six months that 
will allow basic security audits of the NICS," 63 Fed. Reg. 59304 (Oct 
30. 1998). We appreciate the GAO's comments in this process and thank 
the Congress for its support in our continuing efforts to improve the 
NICS to effectuate fully the requirements of the Brady Act. 

Sincerely, 

Signed by: 

Viet D. Dinh: 
Assistant Attorney General: 

[End of section] 

Footnotes: 

[1] We provided you preliminary information on this issue earlier this 
year. See U.S. General Accounting Office, Preliminary Information on 
Proposal for Next-Day Destruction of Records Generated by the National 
Instant Criminal Background Check System, GAO-02-511R (Washington, 
D.C.: Mar. 11, 2002). 

[2] Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, Public Law 103-159, 107 
Stat. 1536 (1993). 

[3] 28 C.F.R. � 25.9(b)(1). 

[4] 66 Fed. Reg. 35,567 (2001) (proposed July 6, 2001). 

[5] Generally, the proposed changes to the NICS regulations would 
require next-day destruction of records. More specifically, the 
proposed changes would require that records related to allowed firearms 
transfers be destroyed before the start of the next business day 
following the date on which a �proceed� message allowing the transfer 
was received by the licensed dealer that requested the NICS search. 
According to an FBI official, the term �business day� should be 
interpreted as the NICS operational day, which starts at 8:00 a.m. and 
runs until 1:00 a.m. NICS operates every day of the year except 
Thanksgiving and Christmas day. 

[6] For this report, we define routine system audits as regularly 
scheduled audits conducted by the NICS Program Office�s Internal 
Assessment Group. 

[7] Depending on the willingness of their state government to act as a 
NICS liaison, firearms dealers contact either the FBI or a designated 
state agency to initiate background checks on individuals purchasing 
firearms. 

[8] In an earlier report, we provided a detailed overview of NICS 
operations. See U.S. General Accounting Office, Gun Control: 
Implementation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check 
System, GAO/GGD/AIMD-00-64 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 29, 2000). 

[9] The 235 firearm-retrieval actions involved transactions in which 
the FBI initially gave gun dealers affirmative responses that the 
transfers could proceed but subsequently changed to denials. As 
discussed later in this report, the vast majority of all retrieval 
actions initiated by the FBI�including those related to transactions 
that are allowed to proceed by default�would not be affected by the 
proposed next-day destruction policy. 

[10] In general, the Internal Assessment Group uses the audit log to 
obtain a list of transactions worked by each examiner, from which 
samples are selected for a review of compliance with NICS policies and 
procedures. 

[11] The legal opinion was conveyed in a memorandum from DOJ�s Office 
of Legal Counsel to DOJ�s Office of Legal Policy. 

[12] Under federal law, persons are prohibited from receiving a firearm 
if they (1) have been convicted of, or are under indictment for, a 
felony; (2) are a fugitive from justice; (3) are unlawful drug users or 
are addicted to a controlled substance; (4) have been involuntarily 
committed to a mental institution or judged to be mentally defective; 
(5) are aliens illegally or unlawfully in the United States, or certain 
other aliens admitted under a nonimmigrant visa; (6) have been 
dishonorably discharged from the military; (7) have renounced their 
U.S. citizenship; (8) are under a domestic violence restraining order; 
or (9) have been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. 
See 18 U.S.C. � 922(g) and 922(n). 

[13] FBI data show that the FBI processed a total of about 2.6 million 
NICS transactions during this 6-month period. 

[14] FBI data show that 43 (18 percent) of the 235 transactions that 
resulted in firearm-retrieval actions involved NICS examiner errors 
(e.g., failure to research a criminal history record). According to FBI 
officials, additional examiner training will be provided and other 
actions are planned to prevent such errors from occurring in the 
future. 

[15] FBI data show that 90 (39 percent) of the 228 firearm-retrieval 
actions were initiated based on criminal history records showing felony 
indictments or convictions, 58 (25 percent) of the retrieval actions 
were related to domestic violence issues (misdemeanor convictions or 
restraining orders), and 28 (12 percent) involved wanted persons. The
remaining 52 firearm-retrieval actions involved other prohibiting 
categories. 

[16] Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Improving 
Criminal History Records for Background Checks, NCJ-192928 (Washington, 
D.C.: Feb. 2002). 

[17] FBI data show that, from November 30, 1998 (when NICS became 
operational), through December 31, 2001, the FBI initiated a total of 
approximately 13,000 firearm-retrieval actions. 

[18] In an earlier report, we provided detailed information on NICS 
default proceed transactions. See U.S. General Accounting Office, Gun 
Control: Options for Improving the National Instant Criminal Background 
Check System, GAO/GGD-00-56 (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 12, 2000). 

[19] For example, arrest records not supported by fingerprints are 
ineligible for posting to certain national criminal history databases. 

[20] Licensed dealers are required to retain records of firearms 
transactions for at least 20 years after the date of sale or transfer. 

[21] Our methodology for selecting ATF field offices to contact is 
presented in appendix II. 

[22] According to ATF headquarters officials, another possible reason 
for discrepancies identified during worksheet reviews is that FBI 
examiners could incorrectly enter information from ATF worksheets into 
their computer systems. 

[23] The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, Public Law 103-159, 107 
Stat. 1536 (1993), amended the Gun Control Act of 1968, Public Law 90-
618, 82 Stat. 1213 (1968). 

[24] 63 Fed. Reg. 30,430 (1998) (proposed June 4, 1998). 

[25] 63 Fed. Reg. 58,303 (1998). 

[26] NICS regulations are found at 28 C.F.R. Part 25. 

[27] 64 Fed. Reg. 10,262 (1999) (proposed March 3, 1999). 

[28] The FBI�s authority to provide ATF with audit log information went 
into effect on July 3, 2001. However, in its July 6, 2001, notice of 
proposed rulemaking, DOJ noted that, during the public comment period, 
the FBI will not exercise its discretionary authority to provide this 
information to ATF, except as specifically authorized by the Attorney 
General. 

[29] 66 Fed. Reg. 6,470 (2001). 

[30] National Rifle Association of America, Inc. v. Reno, 216 F.3d 122, 
(D.C. Cir. 2000), cert. denied 533 U.S. 928 (2001). 

[31] 66 Fed. Reg. 35,567 (2001) (proposed July 6, 2001). 

[32] According to an FBI official, the term �business day� should be 
interpreted as the NICS operational day, which starts at 8:00 a.m. and 
runs until 1:00 a.m. 

[33] 18 U.S.C. 922(t). 

[34] 18 U.S.C. 923(g)(1). 

[35] Depending on the willingness of their state government to act as a 
NICS liaison, firearms dealers contact either the FBI or a designated 
state agency to initiate background checks on individuals purchasing 
firearms. At the time of our review, the FBI conducted all background 
checks in 25 states, the District of Columbia, and 4 U.S. territories, 
while a state agency conducted all checks in 15 states. In the 
remaining 10 states, both the FBI and a state agency conducted 
background checks, depending on the type of firearm being purchased 
(e.g., handgun or long gun). 

[36] 18 U.S.C. 922(t)(1)(B)(ii). 

[37] According to ATF officials, it is unlawful for a firearms dealer 
to sell a handgun to an out-of-state resident. The officials noted that 
a firearms dealer may sell a long gun to an out-of-state resident 
provided the sale does not violate the state law in the purchaser�s 
state or the dealer�s state. 

[38] Generally, the proposed changes to the NICS regulations would 
require next-day destruction of records. More specifically, the 
proposed changes would require that records related to allowed firearms 
transfers be destroyed before the start of the next business day 
following the date on which a �proceed� message allowing the transfer 
was received by the licensed dealer that requested the NICS search. The 
NICS business day starts at 8:00 a.m. and runs until 1:00 a.m. 

[39] DOJ�s current notice of proposed rulemaking related to NICS is 
summarized in appendix I. 

[40] Depending on the willingness of their state government to act as a 
NICS liaison, firearms dealers contact either the FBI or a designated 
state agency to initiate background checks on individuals purchasing 
firearms. At the time of our review, the FBI conducted all background 
checks in 25 states, the District of Columbia, and 4 U.S. territories, 
while a state agency conducted all checks in 15 states. In the 
remaining 10 states, both the FBI and a state agency conducted 
background checks, depending on the type of firearm being purchased 
(e.g., handgun or long gun). 

[End of section] 

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