NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

GAO Report: Background Checks and Enforcement Actions

March 14, 2000

Are individuals prohibited from purchasing firearms being caught by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)? And are they being prosecuted?

According to a General Accounting Office report, as of November 30, 1999, Federal Bureau of Investigation data showed the following:

  • About 2 percent (81,006) of the FBI's 4.4 million background checks resulted in denials -- that is, the potential buyer was disqualified because, for example, criminal history records showed a felony conviction.
  • About 17 percent (13,989) of the FBI's denials were appealed by the denied purchasers to the FBI.
  • About 22 percent (2,710) of the 12,301 appeals, on which a final decision had been reached, were successful, that is, the denials were reversed by the FBI.

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), for the period of November 30, 1998, through September 30, 1999, transactions denied by the FBI or designated state agencies had led ATF to open 380 criminal investigations.

  • Nationally, Executive Office for U.S.Attorneys (EOUSA) data show that, in fiscal year 1999, a total of 2,272 defendants charged for alleged firearms-related false-statement violations were convicted.
  • However, EOUSA could not specifically identify how many of these cases resulted from follow-up enforcement actions regarding individuals who were denied purchasing firearms from licensed dealers on the basis of Brady Act background checks.
  • According to the FBI, NICS has resulted in firearm-purchase denials to 2,230 fugitives as of November 30, 1999 -- and, although no comprehensive statistics are available, some of these individuals subsequently were arrested as a result of being identified by the background check process.

As of December 31, 1999, the ATF reported that it had received referral notifications that 3,353 prohibited individuals had obtained firearms as a result of default proceeds under NICS, and that it had subsequently opened criminal investigations on 110 of these individuals. ATF further reported that as of September 30, 1999, it had retrieved firearms from 442 prohibited persons.

Source: "Gun Control: Implementation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System," GAO/GGD/AIMD-00-64, General Accounting Office, February 29, 2000.


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