Undercover congressional investigators using fake IDs were able to skirt mandatory background checks and purchase guns in all of the five states where they tried, according to a report issued Wednesday.
The General Accounting Office study concluded that the national background check system for purchasing guns "cannot ensure that the prospective purchaser is not a felon."
The system checks only whether the gun buyer had a criminal history but does not require any check to see whether the name or identification being used by the buyer is real.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., asked the GAO's Office of Special Investigations to conduct an undercover probe into the use of false IDs to purchase weapons.
The GAO report was released Wednesday as part of a larger study, Lying and Buying: Using False Information to Obtain Firearms, prepared by the Democratic staff of the House Government Reform Committee. Waxman is the committee's ranking Democrat.
The GAO is the investigative agency of Congress, responding to study requests from any member.
GAO investigators were able to buy guns from licensed dealers in Virginia, West Virginia, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona.
Those states conform to the minimum requirements of the Brady Law, the federal law that made gun buyers subject to background checks. But they have no additional state gun control measures like fingerprinting or waiting periods.
Virginia and Arizona, however, are so-called point-of-contact states, meaning that background checks are done at the state as well as the federal levels.
The Brady Law requires that the gun buyer's name then be run through three databases: the National Instant Check System, which contains the names of felons; the FBI's National Criminal Information Center, which identifies people who are subject to outstanding warrants and protective orders, as well as those who have been deported for a felony; and the Interstate Identification Index of criminal histories.
The NICS has three days to report a problem. If it hasn't reported one by then, or if it reports that the name clears the database, the gun may be sold.
Officials at the GAO used off-the-shelf software to create counterfeit drivers licenses for the five states, inventing fictitious names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth.
Two undercover GAO agents then went to randomly selected gun stores and gun shops where they filmed their purchases of rifles, handguns, semiautomatic weapons, pistols, ammunition clips and hollow point bullets.
The undercover investigators were able to make the purchases 100 percent of the time, the report said.
"They're in business to sell guns," Patrick Sullivan, one of the undercover agents, said of the gun dealers.
The GAO report revealed that:
- In Richmond, Va., an agent used a fake drivers license and payroll stub to buy a 9mm pistol and two, 12-round magazines that the dealer said had been sold to the store by local police. After the background check came back with no problems, the agent bought the gun and left.
- In Berkeley County, W. Va., an agent used a counterfeit license to buy a Bresa .380 semiautomatic pistol and a box of ammunition. The NICS system registered a delay, so the agent came back and completed the urchase the next day.
- At a pawnshop in Billings, Mont., an agent bought two semiautomatic rifles with a fake drivers license after a 24-hour wait caused by a delay in the NICS system. Then at a second store, the agent purchased ammunition without showing any ID or filling out any paperwork.
- In Tuscon, Ariz., a dealer suggested that the agent purchase a .38 caliber revolver from 1893 because background checks are not needed for buyers of antique guns. The Brady Law only covers guns made after 1898. The agent bought the .38 and another pistol with a counterfeit license.
- In a buy in Santa Fe, N.M., when the background check did not provide immediate clearance for the undercover agent, the gun dealer suggested that the second agent could purchase the gun and transfer it to his partner. The second agent used a fake license to buy the gun a 9mm pistol then the first agent paid for it with his credit card.
The first agent then bought some hollow-point bullets. According to the GAO report, "This purchase was based on the salesperson's statement that it was the best ammunition he had in stock to penetrate a bulletproof vest similar to those worn by police officers."
Agents also made two attempts to purchase guns over the Internet.
In both cases, involving sellers based in Warner Robbins, Ga., and Orlando, Fla., the sellers refused to mail the gun to the agent, but agreed to a face-to-face transaction without any identification.
The names of the gun dealers were not provided in the report.
While Democratic lawmakers Wednesday said the report provided fresh evidence for gun control legislation to close loopholes in the Brady Bill, the prospects for passing such legislation are dim. President Bush is supported by the National Rifle Association, and Congress is controlled by Republicans who are generally pro-gun.
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