January 17, 2013

Background checks: Just the facts

Just Facts: Under federal law:

• It is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in prison for the following people to receive, possess, or transport any firearm or ammunition:

someone convicted of or under indictment for a felony punishable by more than one year in prison, someone convicted of a misdemeanor punishable by more than two years in prison, a fugitive from justice, an unlawful user of any controlled substance, someone who has been ruled as mentally defective or has been committed to any mental institution, an illegal alien, someone dishonorably discharged from the military, someone who has renounced his or her U.S. citizenship, someone subject to certain restraining orders, or someone convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor.

• It is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in prison to sell or transfer any firearm or ammunition to someone while "knowing" or having "reasonable cause to believe" this person falls into any of the prohibited categories listed above.
• It is illegal to "engage in the business of importing, manufacturing, or dealing in firearms" without a federal license to do so.
• It is illegal for any federally licensed firearms business to sell or transfer any firearm without first conducting a background check to see if the buyer/recipient falls into any of the prohibited categories listed above.
• It is illegal for anyone except a federally licensed firearms business to sell, buy, trade, or transfer a firearm across state lines.

* Under federal law, private individuals are not required to a conduct a background check before selling or transferring a firearm to someone who lives in the same state, but it is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in prison for a private individual to sell or transfer a firearm while "knowing" or having "reasonable cause to believe" that the recipient falls into one of the prohibited categories above.

* Some states such as California require background checks for all firearms transactions, including those conducted between private individuals.

* In the 10-year period from November 30, 1998 to December 31, 2008, about 96 million background checks for gun purchases were processed through the federal background check system. Of these, approximately 681,000 or about 1% were denied.

* During 2002 and 2003, out of 17 million background checks resulting in 120,000 denials, the federal government prosecuted 154 people (about one-tenth of 1% of the denials).

* According to federal agents interviewed in a 2004 U.S. Justice Department investigation, the "vast majority" of denials under the federal background check system are issued to people who are not "a danger to the public because the prohibiting factors are often minor or based on incidents that occurred many years in the past." As examples of such, agents stated that denials have been issued due to a 1941 felony conviction for stealing a pig and a 1969 felony conviction for stealing hubcaps.

* The same investigation audited 200 background check denials and found that 8% of denied applicants were not prohibited from lawfully possessing a firearm.

* During 2008, applicants appealed about 19% of the 70,725 background check denials issued that year. Of these, about 23% were later overturned and the applications approved.



* Using fake driver's licenses bearing fictitious names, investigators with the Government Accountability Office had a 100% success rate buying firearms in five states that met the minimum requirements of the federal background check system. A 2001 report of this investigation states that the federal background check system "does not positively identify purchasers of firearms," and thus, people using fake IDs are not flagged by the system.
 

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