Standing not far from a wall clock resembling a Henry Repeating Arms rifle, Bill Roney reviewed the three-page double-sided form that could make all the difference in whether he could sell a gun.
It’s called Form ATF 4473, the document that can decide whether a potential buyer can end up with a firearm.
Longtime owner of The Outdoorsman, a gun shop located in DeVargas Center, Roney says criminal background checks can ensure “the wrong people aren’t buying guns.”
But as it prepares for two new check laws – one is set to provide greater scrutiny on who can own a gun; the other designed to create a system that would provide information to law enforcement about people whose potential purchases are being denied or delayed – Roney wondered if the latter bill would violate a person’s right to own gun.
“Database harvesting has dangers,” he said.
Following a deadly mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 schoolchildren and two teachers were killed in May, changes are coming to the federal criminal history system. But those most connected to gun sales — customers, retailers and, to some extent, law enforcement — say they’re not sure exactly what these changes may mean or efficiency.
The bipartisan gun control law that President Joe Biden signed in June gives authorities up to 10 days to investigate the juvenile and mental health records of those who undergo background checks.
Miranda Viscoli, co-chair of the board of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, said her organization was “thrilled” with these extensions to the background check system.
“If the sale of hundreds of thousands of firearms is stopped, we know that background checks are a good thing,” she said.
And by the end of September, another new law giving the U.S. Attorney General’s office and the FBI the right to release information about potential gun buyers whose background checks are denied or delayed to local law enforcement will come into effect.
In March, Biden signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022. The $1.5 trillion spending bill included a provision requiring federal authorities to send personal information about potential gun buyers whose background checks were denied or delayed to state and local law enforcement.
According to a fax Roney received from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System Liaison Office, federal firearms license holders will be required to submit names and addresses associated with all check denials and delays. antecedents. The FBI will then need to submit this information – along with the date and time of the denial, the reason for the denial, and the location of the attempted purchase – to local law enforcement within 24 hours of the denial or delay. .
The law will go into effect Oct. 1, but the FBI plans to implement the changes Sept. 26, according to the fax.
The Skeptical Gun Shops
Roney shakes his head at some of the provisions of current and impending laws on the background check process. The background check form requires the applicant to provide common data such as name, address, and citizenship, as well as criminal convictions, dishonorable dismissal from the military, substance abuse issues, and whether he is ” mentally retarded”.
Roney wondered if people with mental health issues would necessarily tell the truth, and he says he has no way of accessing that personal information on a database to see if a candidate has a background. of mental illness.
“We can’t access it [that information]nor can the federal government [without a subpoena]he says. “Isn’t that silly?
Roney said he could call a number or use a computer to file a background check with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and get a response fairly quickly. In general, he said about 70% of applicants are allowed to buy a gun.
While retailers like Roney doubt the effectiveness of the controls, supporters say they are working exactly as intended – restricting access to guns for those who shouldn’t own them.
“Is this going to stop gun violence? No. Background checks are just one of those tools we have to get guns out of dangerous hands,” Viscoli said.
Diana Johnson of Ron Peterson Firearms in Albuquerque disagrees. She said it’s because criminals don’t come to stores like hers and voluntarily agree to a background check.
“Criminals are always going to pull guns out; they’re pulling guns off the street,” she said.
Either way, statistics show that Americans are buying guns at a breakneck pace. Nearly 20 million were purchased in 2021, according to Forbes magazine, and while that figure was down from a record high of 22.8 million in 2020, it was well above the 16.7 million in 2019.
Roney said he has seen an increase in gun sales in recent years as crime rates rise and people arm themselves for personal safety. He said the key demographic was middle-aged and older men – although as he spoke a young woman in her 20s was undergoing a background check in a bid to buy a small handgun.
According to a 2021 U.S. Department of Justice report, in 2017 more than 17 million background check applicants were allowed to purchase firearms. Another 237,000 – 1.4% – had their application refused.
What is basic information used for?
Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said those who have been turned away don’t necessarily have criminal records. But creating a database of those who have tried to buy guns legally and have failed could “help if there is an incident where someone uses a gun, it will give us some context , a little history”.
He acknowledged that there is a “fine line” between creating such a database and respecting residents’ constitutional rights to own and carry firearms.
Mendoza said he has not yet received guidance on how denial data will be disseminated among local law enforcement.
As it stands, law enforcement officials cannot access the National Instant Background Check System to review these background check reports. They also cannot obtain data on why a background check was denied, even if the applicant has a criminal record.
In an emailed statement from FBI spokeswoman Holly Morris, the NICS section of the bureau confirmed that all records in their system of a successful firearm transfer must be destroyed within 24 hours by the law.
Sierra County Sheriff Glenn Hamilton said safeguards built into the background check system make it harder for local law enforcement to trace firearms used in criminal activity — and the backgrounds of those. who use them.
Hamilton recently told a state legislative committee that law enforcement cannot easily access background check data submitted to the verification system. Nor can law enforcement or gun shop owners find out why someone failed a background check.
Hamilton said that even if local law enforcement does turn to the FBI and ask them to search the national background check system for a weapon, the relevant information may already have disappeared due to the suppression of verification information. track record on successful purchases within 24 hours.
“Extending the background check law here in New Mexico is totally unfeasible, given the way the system is set up,” Hamilton said.
How will the NICS Denial Notification Act work?
This year’s new NICS Denial Notification Act should provide local law enforcement with a wider range of information from a system that Hamilton considers opaque and somewhat lacking.
While the fax notification Roney received says the information will be disseminated electronically to local law enforcement, details of that process are not specified.
“The NICS section is working diligently on developing the tools to make this notification as transparent as possible,” the fax said.
In its statement, the FBI’s NICS Section said it is currently working to implement an electronic notification process in accordance with the NICS Denial Notification Act.
“As expected, all responses will be sent electronically to the appropriate agency in the firearms buyer’s area of residence,” the FBI wrote via email.
The agency added that if a person’s place of residence is different from where they attempted to purchase a firearm, a notification will be sent to law enforcement in both regions.
Johnson of the Albuquerque gun store said background check delays often occur because a potential buyer has the same or similar name as someone with a criminal history. And Roney said he fears the process will lead to a new database that includes “everyone, where they live and what they’re going to buy”.
Approval of a gun purchase can be delayed for up to three days, although Roney said NICS does not explain why it delayed approval. Although the law allows him to return the gun to the buyer after three days if the NICS does not deny the background check, he said his store has decided not to sell any firearms unless the applicant pass the background check.
Santa Fe Police Department Chief Paul Joye said he supports the new background check provisions. When asked if he thought background checks were a good policy, he replied, “That’s a tough question; it’s such a polarizing issue.”
But he added: “I support background checks. I think anything that makes it harder for those who shouldn’t have guns to get guns, I support that.”
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