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Lautenberg Introduces Bill to Preserve Gun Records Critical to Law Enforcement, Terrorism Prevention
Lautenberg Press Office (202) 224-3224
Tuesday, December 01,
WASHINGTON, DC – Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) today introduced the PROTECT Act, legislation to preserve records of gun sales for longer periods of time to aid law enforcement officials in preventing gun crimes and terrorist acts. Under current law, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) must destroy these records in most cases within 24 hours of allowing a gun sale to proceed.
“It makes no sense to immediately destroy information linking a gun purchase to its buyer and seller,” said Sen. Lautenberg. “We are too often asking law enforcement to protect our communities with one hand tied behind their back. Preserving background check information would help law enforcement do its job and keep our families safe from criminals and terrorists. We must overturn the ill-conceived 24-hour destruction policy so we can successfully combat gun violence and terrorism in America.”
The Brady Law requires federally-licensed gun dealers to conduct background checks using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) before they sell guns. The NICS system creates an audit log of the purchase during the course of the search. A rider that has been attached to appropriations bills each year since 2004 mandates that the FBI destroy this audit log within 24 hours of allowing the gun sale to proceed.
The 24-hour destruction requirement hinders the FBI’s ability to verify that gun dealers are conducting background checks properly and to retrieve guns from those who are prohibited from having them. In 2002 - prior to the 24-hour rule - the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that over a six-month period the FBI used retained records to initiate 235 actions to retrieve illegally possessed guns, 228 (97 percent) of which would not have been possible under a 24-hour destruction policy.
Records are also destroyed when known and suspected terrorists purchase firearms, since nothing in current federal law prohibits them from purchasing guns. The FBI’s current practice is to keep background check records for these purchases for 90 days. If, at the end of the 90-day period, the FBI still has not found any other disqualifying reason to prohibit the purchase under current federal law, all records related to the purchase are destroyed.
At the request of Sen. Lautenberg, the GAO released a report earlier this year finding that from February 2004 through February 2009 there were 963 cases in which a known or suspected terrorist identified in federal terrorist watch list records attempted to buy a gun or explosives. In 90 percent of these cases -- a total of 865 different times -- the known or suspected terrorist was cleared to buy a firearm or explosive. Last week, Attorney General (AG) Holder announced his support for a separate Lautenberg bill, the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Criminal Act of 2009, which would give the Department of Justice discretion to deny a gun purchase to someone on the terrorist watch list.
Sen. Lautenberg’s legislation, the Preserving Records of Terrorist & Criminal Transactions (PROTECT) Act of 2009, would:
- require the FBI to retain for 10 years all records related to a NICS transaction involving a valid match to federal terrorist watch list records; and
- repeal the requirement that other background check records be destroyed after 24 hours, and instead require that the records of all non-terrorist transactions be maintained for 180 days.
When asked about the 24-hour destruction rule at a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in April 2007, FBI Director Robert Mueller said, “[T]here is a substantial argument in my mind for retaining records for a substantial period of time.” Video of Director Mueller’s remarks can be found here.
Last week, Tom Kean, former Republican governor of New Jersey and Chairman of the 9/11 Commission, and Mayor Bloomberg of New York City wrote an op-ed opposing the 24-hour destruction of gun records and the inability of law enforcement to block gun sales to terror suspects.
The measure is cosponsored by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Carl Levin (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Sen. Lautenberg is a long-time advocate for responsible gun safety measures. He has also introduced legislation to close a loophole that allows guns to be sold at gun shows without a background check. And Sen. Lautenberg is the author of the domestic violence gun ban, which has successfully kept more than 170,000 guns away from domestic abusers.
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