Archive for Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Tiahrt proviso requires destruction of gun records

Sales documents now must be discarded after one day

January 27, 2004


— The government will destroy records on gun buyers after one day because of a provision Kansas Rep. Todd Tiahrt inserted into the federal spending bill that became law last week.

The length of time for keeping records will be shortened from 90 days to one day after a gun buyer passes a background check.

First proposed two years ago by Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, the change is a victory for gun rights advocates who argue that keeping the records is an invasion of privacy.

Gun control advocates say that destroying records immediately will handicap efforts to keep guns away from criminals and others who shouldn't have them.

Tiahrt said when Congress required background checks in the landmark Brady law, the intent was to destroy records at the earliest opportunity. The FBI check is meant to keep guns from being sold to felons, drug users and others barred from owning guns.

"For us law-abiding citizens, there is no need to have this database. It is a freedom issue. It is a privacy issue," Tiahrt said.

He argued that guns mistakenly sold to felons could still be traced through records that must be maintained by federally licensed firearm dealers.

"It's not that the records do not exist. If a crime is committed, they can still trace it back through the gun dealer," Tiahrt said.

Opponents of Tiahrt's provision say the records should be kept longer because there are delays in reporting domestic violence restraining orders and other prohibitions to owning guns to the National Instant Criminal Background Check system.

Some law enforcement organizations are among the opponents. The FBI Agents Assn. wrote lawmakers last year that a reduced retention period would make it harder to use the paperwork to investigate or prosecute crimes related to the gun sales in question.

They point to findings by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, that only seven out of 235 illegal gun sales between July 2001 and January 2002 were noticed after one day.

"There are unfortunately a lot of records in this country that are not entered into the national instant check system fast enough," said Peter Hamm, spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

"What you literally have is the computer flagging, three or four days or weeks later, that somebody who had been approved to purchase a gun in some community has a domestic violence watch order on him, or has been involuntarily committed for issues of mental instability," Hamm said.

Tiahrt said chances were very low someone would slip through the system after one day.

"When you think about that out of 4 million transactions, a couple hundred were missed, we've got a pretty good system," he said. "When you look at weighing how retaining the records imposes on law-abiding private citizens, I think it's a small, negligible risk."

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