April 30, 2008

Reed, Whitehouse Cosponsor Bill to Prevent Criminals and Terrorists from Purchasing Guns

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) are teaming up with Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) to close a gap in existing federal law and prevent terrorists and criminals from purchasing guns. The Preserving Records of Terrorist & Criminal Transactions (PROTECT) Act of 2008 (S.2935) will require the FBI to keep records of gun purchases by terror suspects for a minimum of ten years and preserve data generated from background checks for all gun purchases for 180 days.

Under current federal law, most gun purchase records must now be destroyed within 24 hours. Even when a known or suspected terrorist attempts to purchase a firearm, the FBI now retains the record of the background check for only 90 days. If, at the end of that period, the agency still has found no reason to prohibit the sale, the records are destroyed. The current law does not always allow law enforcement adequate time to conduct a thorough investigation.

“The PROTECT Act is a commonsense effort to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists and criminals. Destroying background checks within 24 hours allows people who have recently been charged with a crime to slip through the cracks,” said Reed. “Retaining background checks for 180 days will ensure that they are thorough and complete. This bill will give law enforcement the tools to help combat gun violence in our nation.” In January, Reed and Lautenberg introduced a bill to close the lingering gun show loophole by requiring background checks on all sales at gun shows.

“Today, the FBI is required to routinely destroy data that could help law enforcement officials prevent crime, by recovering firearms purchased improperly or possessed illegally,” said Whitehouse, a former U.S. Attorney and Attorney General for Rhode Island who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “This commonsense change will mean fewer illegal guns on our streets and in our neighborhoods.”

In 2005 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report titled “FBI Could Better Manage Firearm-Related Background Checks Involving Terrorist Watch List Suspects,” which found that federal law enforcement officials approved 35 of 44 gun applications from terrorism suspects over a five-month period because the checks did not turn up any prohibiting information such as felony convictions or illegal immigration status.

The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) records can provide important information to assist in law enforcement efforts, particularly in cases in which the FBI seeks to retrieve a firearm purchased or possessed illegally. A GAO report found that during a six-month period in 2002, the FBI was able to use these records to initiate 228 actions to retrieve firearms that would not have been possible once the 24-hour rule went into effect.


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