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Archive for Thursday, January 17, 2002

Kansas fails test on keeping guns away from felons

State ranks ninth highest in nation in gun sales to convicted criminals

January 17, 2002

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— Kansas is one of 22 states given a failing grade from a gun safety advocacy group because of the number of people legally barred from buying guns who were able to do so.

A report released Wednesday by the Washington-based Americans for Gun Safety Foundation showed that during a 30-month period since mid-1999, 375 people, some of them convicted felons, bought guns in Kansas although their backgrounds should've prevented it.

The Kansas total was ninth highest in the nation. Among other states in the region, Arkansas had 471, Missouri 406 and Oklahoma 337, while Iowa's total was only 73, Nebraska's 62 and Colorado's 53.

Nationwide, 9,976 felons and others legally barred from owning firearms were able to get past background checks.

States compile felony conviction, mental disability and domestic violence records for the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System. But since many records are not entered into a database, finding them can take several days.

U.S. law provides that if a government can't complete a background check in three days, gun dealers must sell a firearm to a customer.

In Kansas, only 46 percent of the final disposition records of felony cases are automated, the report said. Kansas does not automate any records of people institutionalized involuntarily in mental facilities, or of domestic violence restraining orders or misdemeanors.

The report said most states rely on outdated records and computer technology for background checks, which allows thousands of felons to purchase guns with little trouble.

"The dirty little secret is that the records for almost every state are in terrible shape, and our front-line defense necessary to keep guns out of the hands of criminals is full of holes," said Jim Kessler, director of the foundation. The organization says it is a nonpartisan group that supports better gun laws and enforcement of laws.

Background checks to see whether prospective gun buyers have criminal records have been required since February 1994 under the Brady Act.

The National Rifle Assn. agreed that the system is sloppy but said the blame should fall on an out-of-control bureaucracy, not lawful gun owners.

"Their conclusion is to make law-abiding gun owners wait," for background checks, said NRA lobbyist Jim Baker. "An ongoing failure of the criminal justice bureaucracy is not a reason to further abrogate the rights of law-abiding citizens."

Discussions about gun background checks don't dominate the talk at meetings of law enforcement agencies, Douglas County Sheriff Rick Trapp said.

"I bet it will now," he said. "Obviously we're concerned."

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