Saturday, July 2, 2022

Flaws and missing data: gaps in gun background check systems

The bipartisan gun control bill, being introduced in the Senate this weekend, draws heavily on a muscular but mistakenly obsessed bureaucratic worker familiar to any American who recently bought a firearm: the federal background check system. .

The two most important reform measures being discussed in response to the Buffalo and Uvalde massacres – the inclusion of juvenile records in background checks and new restrictions on purchases by a wide range of domestic abusers – depend on the efficient operation of the check system. Which is run by the FBI and is already dealing with a huge boom in demand for guns.

“Almost everything they’re doing depends on this system. It’s the foundation,” said Mark Collins, a top official at Brady’s, the gun control group that played a central role in creating the system in 1993. “There are problems with the foundation.”

The National Instant Background Check System—three gargantuan, interlinked databases containing state and federal records collectively referred to as “NICS”—is an administrative marvel, even as its critics admit. In 2021, the system processed 40 million firearms transactions, 88 percent of them within minutes, and blocked hundreds of purchases per day by people with criminal records, mental health problems, drug dependence or other factors. which prevented them from buying guns. under state or federal law.

Yet for all its power, the system was designed to run at a fraction of its current capacity nearly three decades ago. It operates with serious inherent limitations put in place by the gun lobby, which pushed to accelerate gun sales—inserting a provision that allows gun dealers to give buyers their weapons if the investigation is within three business days. Inside is not complete.

And while all 50 states participate in the system, it remains technically voluntary, so the federal government has no authority to order states to provide any records — or set a timetable for distributing the data. . This, many law enforcement officials believe, has contributed to the persistent lag in the system that has been linked to many high-profile mass murders and many other less-publicized crimes.

Records on a buyer’s domestic violence, juvenile justice and mental health history are the most difficult to track, collect, or define according to people who have studied or worked with background check systems.

The settlement law in question will, for the first time, open up access to juvenile delinquency and mental health records to buyers aged 18 to 21. But it can take years to establish protocols for states to turn over their data, reflecting the age-old challenges. Collecting reliable mental health records.

“I think there are potential gaps in the system that become more significant when all these new elements are added,” said Norwood, Mass. Police Chief William G. Brooks III.

“Do I think there are too many gaps in the NICS? No,” said Mr Brooks, who serves on the board of the International Association of Police Chiefs, which has worked to reform the system. “But it’s like anything else. It’s only as good as the data going into it.”

The Senate package is being negotiated, with Senator John Cornyn of Texas representing Republicans and Senator Chris Murphy of the Democrats of Connecticut, systems to implement procedures to identify buyers with mental health issues and Incentives include funding to address those, along with incentives. Problem.

But it doesn’t give the FBI significant new authority to compel local governments to post the data they need to conduct a comprehensive investigation.

The federal background check system is “broken in a lot of ways,” said Benjamin Dowd-Arrow, a public health researcher at Florida State University who studies gun violence.

“It’s not always interconnected to make sure people are properly screened,” he said. “So, we end up with a fragmented system where some people slip under the radar.”

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Even the smallest mistake can directly or indirectly lead to tragedy. In 2014, a 15-year-old boy walked into his high school in Marysville, Wash., and fatally shot four students before killing himself. The gun he used was bought by his father, who obtained it after a background check, which failed to flag a protection order filed against him, was held after local authorities pleaded guilty to domestic abuse. After, for attacking his life partner, who should have stopped. Instant sale.

In another case, in 2017, a gunman barged into a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and shot 26 people with a semiautomatic weapon. He bought it when his background check did not include a domestic violence conviction prior to his discharge from the Air Force, which failed to register the conviction in the system.

The Senate hastily passed a bill to encourage better record-keeping among federal agencies.

A separate but important issue, gun control advocates say, is closing the loopholes that allow private sellers to sell weapons without any background checks. That idea, opposed by Republicans, was never seriously discussed in current negotiations, in the interest of securing a bipartisan agreement that could get 60 votes.

“There are many other ways guns are sold outside of that system, such as at gun shows, over the Internet, or through private sales,” said Rebecca Fisher, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence.

“It’s like going to the airport and being told that some people go through security and some don’t,” said Lindsey Nichols with the Giffords Law Center for Preventing Gun Violence.

For years, gun control advocates have worked to address deficiencies in the background check system, but have faced continued opposition from Republican lawmakers and the gun lobby, who have argued that existing state and federal background checks already exist. The Second Amendment restricts rights.

On a technical level, with the exception of sporadic glitches, the NICS functions quite well in day to day operations. Gun store owners — the first line of defense in identifying suspicious buyers — say the system often prevents them from selling a gun to the wrong person.

Chris DiBella, co-owner of Tobacco Valley Gun in East Windsor, Conn., said that about a year and a half ago, a man who had a pistol permit came into his store to buy a handgun.

Mr. DiBella said he called the state police in Connecticut, one of a handful of states that operates its own, more rigorous background check system, which is integrated with the NICS.

“The police said, ‘Please hold on,’ and about 10 minutes later three police cruisers showed up,” he recalled. “The police locked her in the shop and went with her.”

The police would only tell him that the man had an outstanding warrant.

In 2008 the FBI tried to remedy record gaps in NICS, but abandoned the effort several years later after hitting logistic and funding snags.

The most recent study in 2013 by the non-profit National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics estimated that up to a quarter of all felonies were “not available” in the NICS.

The reduction in time spent on testing makes the system even more vulnerable to error. The biggest problem with NICS, in the eyes of its critics, is the so-called “Charleston Loophole”, which allows buyers to pick up their weapons after three business days, even if they have not yet been thoroughly tested, A scenario that can occur is when a potential problem is identified that requires follow-up investigation.

The 72-hour rule, put in place three decades ago at the behest of Republican lawmakers in negotiations on the Brady bill, played a direct role in one of the deadliest racial violence in American history. A white supremacist who killed nine people at a predominantly Black church in Charleston, SC in 2015, was allowed to pick up his gun after three business days had passed, even though a full review was not completed. Was.

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It later emerged that the gunman should have been barred from purchasing the firearm as he had previously admitted to the police that he had a controlled substance. But confusion over local law enforcement records prevented officials from tracing the issue within the specified time frame.

It is not known how many crimes were committed by the buyers, who were still allowed to retrieve their guns after three days with incomplete background checks – but between 5,000 and 6,500 weapons a year from those. confiscated those who were later disqualified. For the FBI’s 2021 NICS Operations Report.

Those deemed so dangerous that agents armed with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – the weapons recovery agency – have to give up whatever they are doing to obtain the guns, according to current and former agents. is called for.

The agreement now being considered would address that issue by delaying purchases by 18- to 21-year-olds until a review of juvenile records is completed.

Cassandra Crifasi, deputy director of the Center for Gun Violence Solutions at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said she is disappointed the Senate is not considering an extension of the 72-hour period that many states have imposed for all potential buyers. . place.

“It’s low-hanging fruit,” she said. “It’s not about snatching people’s guns. It’s about giving law enforcement more time to make sure people who shouldn’t have guns don’t get them. ,

Officials say NICS works best when dealing with black-and-white metrics such as criminal conviction records. But all tracking systems become significantly less reliable when reporting relies on data, such as mental health records or domestic violence complaints, that are subject to more subjective interpretations by health care professionals and law enforcement agencies.

This becomes even more problematic when considering juvenile records.

“You’re talking about setting up a system completely from scratch,” said Mr. Collins of Brady Gun Control Group. “Teenage records are sacrosanct – we believe right in this country that you get a fresh start at age 18 – so states have to figure out a way to disclose problems to the NICS without violating a young person’s privacy rights.” , if possible.”

And there’s no guarantee that the system will catch all potential mass shooters, even after the changes are made. New York State has a “red flag” law that aims to prevent individuals who own or others from accessing firearms.

But the 18-year-old man who killed 10 people in Buffalo on May 14 was legally able to buy a gun because no one had petitioned the court for a red flag order when he had a mental health evaluation and was released. was done.

Gun owners and gun control activists agree on one thing: A background check may not be completely effective if family members and the community do not intervene when they observe behavior that could lead to violence.

Michael Cargill, owner of the Central Texas Gun Works, said, “What I want to see is that family members step up to the plate and do their job and notify law enforcement when there is a relative in the home who has Shouldn’t have a gun.” Austin.

“We have situations in the gun store where family members will call and say that their son, for example, is suicidal and ‘please don’t sell him a gun. That’s how it should work.”

Mr Kargil said he has members of his own family, he will not sell them guns because he believes they are a danger to himself and others.

None of his issues, he said, would show up on the background check.

Ellen Delaquerry research provided.

Nation World News Desk
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