The June 25 front-page story "Delays in FBI Checks Put 1,700 Guns in the Wrong Hands" wrongly suggested that since the FBI started doing Brady pre-sale background checks last November, it has "bungled" them, allowing almost 1,700 criminals to get guns from licensed gun dealers.

Some prohibited people get guns despite Brady checks because a small percentage of background checks cannot be completed by the FBI's National Instant Check System (NICS) within the time allowed under the Brady Law -- a maximum of three business days.

Since the instant check system came online Nov. 30, background checks by the FBI have stopped more than 48,000 felons, fugitives and other prohibited persons from getting guns. Background checks have stopped sales to more than 400,000 prohibited people since the Brady law went into effect five years ago.

The NICS Operation Center is staffed seven days a week, 17 hours a day, and all Brady background checks are handled immediately. In 73 percent of cases, the licensed firearms dealer requesting the check is given a "proceed" response within minutes. In 95 percent of cases, the FBI is able to give the dealer an answer within two hours.

For the other 5 percent of calls, the FBI needs additional time, usually because a state or local court record must be checked and is unavailable electronically. Sometimes this takes more than three business days.

If a gun buyer turns out to be a felon, under indictment for a felony or otherwise ineligible to have a gun, the FBI tells the dealer to deny the sale. If three business days have not yet passed, transfer is prevented under the Brady Law. If three business days have passed, the dealer is legally permitted to transfer the weapon.

Since Nov. 30, guns have been transferred 1,663 times after three business days expired. Immediately upon learning that a gun has been transferred to a prohibited person, the FBI contacts both the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and local law enforcement, which act to investigate and retrieve the weapon.

Obviously, law enforcement prefers preventing the transfer in the first place, rather than trying to retrieve weapons from potentially dangerous persons. This is why we have been fighting proposals that would shorten the time allowed for law enforcement to complete background checks at gun shows.


Deputy Attorney General of the United States U.S. Department of Justice