Background Check Fires A Blank

If you are one of the 5,000 Americans trying to buy a new gun, a little patience is in order now that the new national system of background checks is in effect, CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart reports.

Just hours into the first day of the new national instant background check on gun buyers, the FBI's master computer up and crashed. And, while some shoppers made out okay, by late Monday afternoon a serious logjam had developed with more than a third of all buyers being told to wait for three days.

Under the new system, the number of checks performed will double because a new law requires background approvals not just for handgun buyers but also for those who buy rifles and shotguns.

An estimated 12.4 million firearms of all kinds are sold each year in the United States. All will be covered now, as will an additional 2.5 million annual transactions made when an owner retrieves a firearm from a pawn shop.

To prepare, the FBI hired and began training 513 people in West Virginia to handle its share of the work, set up two telephone centers through a contractor, and sent teams to brief the nation's 106,000 gun dealers and pawnshop owners.

The FBI is checking gun buyers' names against a super computer's database of 35 million records to screen for felons, the mentally ill and people under domestic violence restraining orders.

The problem is that many states don't report all restraining orders and mental commitments because of privacy concerns. In short, even the FBI admits this law has some massive loopholes.

"I don't think it's a foolproof system, but it is one that is designed to keep weapons out of the hands of people who should not possess weapons," said James DeSarno of the FBI.

Federal law bans gun purchases by people convicted or under indictment for felony charges, fugitives, the mentally ill, those with dishonorable military discharges, those who have renounced U.S. citizenship, illegal aliens, illegal drug users, and those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors or who are under domestic violence restraining orders. State laws add other categories.

Neither side on the gun debate is very happy with the instant check system either. The National Rifle Association charges it threatens to list all gun buyers in a secret government registry.
Gun control proponents argue it doesn't allow for a mandatory cooling off period before buyers can walk out with their weapon.

The FBI blamed Monday's problems on telephone switching equipment and promised it would soon be fixed. That would be wise because next month is the busiest time of the year for gun sales with more than 18,000 sales a day expected.

Reported By Jim Stewart
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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