Checks block 204,000 firearm sales 

Report shows state, local police reject more purchases than FBI 

June 5, 2000


WASHINGTON -- Background checks
blocked 204,000 of the more than 8.6 million
prospective gun sales last year, according to
a Justice Department report. The report
shows state and local police rejected a
higher percentage of would-be gun buyers
than the FBI.

The 1999 figures brought the number of
rejections since the Brady Act instituted
background checks in February 1994 to
536,000 out of almost 22.3 million
applications, the department's Bureau of
Justice Statistics reported. That confirmed
estimates of more than 500,000 rejections.

The report provided the first hard numbers on
the differences between checks by state and
local police and those by the FBI.

The FBI performed 4.5 million of the 8.6
million checks last year, compared with 4.1
million by state and local agencies.

The rejection rate among state and local
agencies was 3 percent, compared with 1.8
percent for the FBI.

The report attributed this difference to state
agencies' access to more detailed criminal
history records. In 1999, 73 percent of
rejections were because would-be buyers
had been convicted of or indicted on felony

Last year, the report said, all state agencies
had access to computer databases that
record past felony convictions. Many
accessed databases with other disqualifying
information such as fugitive status, court
restraining orders, mental illness and
domestic violence misdemeanor convictions,
it said.

The Clinton administration long has argued
that the states are better equipped than the
FBI to do background checks, but some
states have not wanted to pay the costs. 

The overall national rejection rate has
remained 2.4 percent since 1994, despite
the Nov. 30, 1998, switch to computerized
instant checks and the addition of checks on
long-gun purchasers. Only handgun buyers
were checked before.

A second statistics bureau report largely
recapped data released by the Justice
Department during its gun control debate
with the National Rifle Association during the
past few months.

The gun owners' group opposed President
Bill Clinton's gun control proposals and
argued that federal prosecutors were not
enforcing existing gun laws. The
administration said federal prosecutors were
focusing on serious offenders and shifting
smaller cases to state and local prosecutors.
It also said combined gun prosecutions were

The report said preliminary 1999 data
showed 6,728 defendants were charged with
federal firearms offenses, up from 6,287 in
1998. It also showed that between 1992 and
1997, the number of federal firearms
defendants decreased 19 percent, from
7,621 to 5,993.

The report attributed part of this decline to
the Supreme Court's 1995 Bailey vs. United
States decision limiting prosecutors' ability to
charge defendants with using a firearm
during a violent or drug offense. It estimated
that 2,500 more defendants would have been
charged with illegal gun possession between
1995 and 1998 if the court had ruled

The bureau said prosecutors compensated
by seeking longer sentences for weapon use.