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Did Brady bill block handgun sales?

June 22, 1998

As the nation struggled over how to keep guns out of the wrong hands, the Justice Department estimated Sunday that under the presale checks of the Brady law some 69,000 handgun sales were blocked in 1997.

More than three out of five sales were rejected because the buyer had a felony conviction or was under felony indictment.

The department's Bureau of Justice Statistics said the rejections constituted just 2.7 percent of the 2,574,000 applications nationwide for handgun sales during the year.

Since the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act took effect in February 1994, through last Dec. 31, there have been 242,000 purchases stopped because of the checks, out of a total of 10,356,000 purchase applications, the bureau estimated.

Felony convictions or indictments for the would-be handgun buyer accounted for 61.7 percent of last year's rejections.

The second most frequent reason for denial was domestic violence, which was responsible for 11.2 percent, including 9.1 percent who had misdemeanor domestic violence convictions and 2.1 percent who were under court orders restraining them from harming or stalking an intimate partner or child.

Another 5.9 percent of the denials were for buyers who turned out to be fugitives from justice.

State law prohibitions blocked sales to 6.1 percent of the rejectees; drug addiction accounted for 1.6 percent of the denials; mental illness for 0.9 percent; local law prohibitions for another 0.9 percent.

The remaining 11.7 percent of the denials came from all others barred from handgun purchases under the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968, including illegal aliens, juveniles, dishonorably discharged servicemen, and people who have renounced U.S. citizenship.

The estimates were based on a sampling of the chief law enforcement officers whose agencies conduct the background checks.

Beginning in November of this year, presale checks will be required for all firearms, not just handguns, purchased from federally licensed dealers. The dealers will make the checks through an automated system that Justice Department officials have said will be operable by that time.

Unless a state has set up an approved permit system, the dealers will use computers or the telephone to directly contact the FBI's national instant criminal background check system or indirectly through a state agency serving as an FBI contact point.

Last week, Attorney General Janet Reno urged states to do their own criminal background checks, rather than leave them to the FBI. ``No one knows more about state records than the states themselves,'' Reno said.

About half the states have so far agreed to do their own checks.

Gun dealers will likely pass on the cost of the check to customers. The Justice Department wants states to do the background checks to save money at the FBI and to prevent confusion over different state laws. As an inducement, the FBI plans to charge $13 to $16 per background check to states that won't do their own.