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How do gun background checks work? A look at the current system

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In the wake of the mass shooting at a Florida high school earlier this month, President Trump is seemingly open to strengthening federal background checks.

“While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Sunday, adding that the president has spoken to Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn about a bill to “improve federal compliance with criminal background check legislation.”

Here’s a look at how the federal background check works, and what activists and experts have to say about it.

What happens when you want to purchase a gun?

In order to purchase a gun from a federal firearms licensed dealer (FFL), a consumer must provide identification and pass a federal background check using the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ 4473 form.

The first page of the document requires basic information, including the buyer’s full name, address, sex, birthday and ethnicity. A Social Security number is encouraged, but not required.

The form also asks the buyer about criminal background, immigration status and mental health — information that could result in a consumer being denied. Those questions include:

  • Have you ever been convicted in any court of a felony, or any other crime for which the judge could have imprisoned you for more than one year, even if you received a shorter sentence including probation?
  • Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug or any other controlled substance?
  • Have you been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions?
  • Have you ever been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence?

Lying on the federal form is a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, an ATF spokesperson confirmed to Fox News. That penalty is also listed at the top of the form.

Once the form is completed, the dealer will submit it to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) online or by phone. Then, almost immediately, the licensed seller will know how to continue with the sale:

  • Proceed: If NICS indicates the seller can proceed, then the sale can continue.
  • Canceled or Denied: Should NICS mark the form as “canceled” or “denied,” the seller cannot legally sell the firearm to the buyer. Michael Smith, the vice president of marketing and media for Upstate Armory Group, a firearm dealer in Simpsonville, S.C., told Fox News he generally provides the customer with contact information for a local lawyer who handles restoration of firearm rights in case the failed background check is erroneous. There have been times police have arrived at the gun shop to arrest the customer who legally cannot purchase a gun, Smith said.
  • Delayed: If the background check elicits a “delayed” response from NICS, the seller cannot complete the transaction for at least three business days. Unless a specific “denied” designation is issued, the seller will be able to complete the transaction with the customer after that period elapses, under federal law.

Even before a 4473 form is filled out, Robbie Wheaton, vice president of the Wheaton Arms Inc. gun shop in Piedmont, S.C., said he takes note of the customer. If a customer seems to be intoxicated or “shady” – talking, for instance, about a cheating spouse – dealers don’t have to sell that person a gun.

“A shop has a final right to say ‘no’ based on a person’s behavior whether they will sell a firearm to them or not.”

– Robbie Wheaton, vice president of Wheaton Arms Inc. in South Carolina

“As a federal firearms licensee, we have the right to be able to refuse the transfer of firearms to someone,” Wheaton told Fox News. “A shop has a final right to say ‘no’ based on a person’s behavior whether they will sell a firearm to them or not.”

Smith praised the background check system, as it can flag other discrepancies for sellers, such as an age issue.

South Carolina law, for example, prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from purchasing a long gun (such as an AR-15) and anyone under 21 from buying a pistol, handgun or other firearm, he said. The background check can prevent sellers, particularly at hectic gun shows, from accidentally selling a firearm to someone who isn’t of age, Smith said.

Why do I have to complete the background check?

Thanks to the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, the FBI created the NICS in 1998. The system is supposed to instantaneously let a firearms dealer know whether a buyer is legally allowed to purchase the gun.

According to the FBI, more than 230 million checks have been made by cashiers prior to a purchase and more than 1.3 million denials have been issued since the system was put in place.

Is this process the same in every state?

No.

In South Carolina, for example, consumers who already have a concealed weapons permit do not need to go through a background check in order to purchase a firearm in the state, multiple dealers in the Palmetto State told Fox News.

Also, state laws may be superseded by federal law. The 4473 form asks consumers about marijuana use. Those who use the drug, in states where recreational or medicinal use is legal, will be denied a firearm, Wheaton said.

In Hawaii, after the first legal medicinal marijuana dispensary opened in the state in 2017, local law enforcement agencies asked users who are also gun owners to turn in their firearms within 30 days, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Is this system strong enough?

It depends on who you ask.

Jonas Oransky, the deputy legal director of Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for stronger gun control, praised the background check system but said it has “significant gaps.”

Specifically, Oransky’s organization points to a “private sale loophole.” Federal law requires licensed dealers to complete background checks, but people can also purchase guns from a private seller – such as a friend or through online classifieds websites like ArmsList.com. (ArmsList.com prompts users to “accept” a terms of use document, which acknowledges the website doesn’t certify or investigate transactions and instructs users not to use the site for “illegal purposes.”)

“It doesn’t matter necessarily if people are selling at scale,” Oransky told Fox News. “It’s not that all sellers are dangerous or devious, but buyers who know that they can skip the background check can look for an unlicensed seller.”

Wheaton, who has been in the firearms business full time since 2007, said he and other licensed sellers try to persuade customers to transfer guns through a licensed dealer so a background check can be conducted.

Oransky also pointed to the so-called “Charleston loophole,” which allows dealers to sell guns to a customer before a background check is completed – when NICS marks a document “delayed” but does not approve or deny it within three business days. He said a disproportionate number of buyers who obtain a gun before a background check is completed are domestic abusers, citing complex records and restraining orders that investigators need additional time to read through or discuss with the appropriate local law enforcement agency.

“The FBI should have the time they need to complete a background check. It’s more important than expediting sales to people who shouldn’t have a gun,” he said.

On the other hand, Second Amendment advocates argue that the background check system already does too much.

“We don’t think it’s proper for people to have to prove their innocence to the government in order to exercise their God-given right,” Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, a Virginia-based gun rights nonprofit, told Fox News.

“Our rights are listed in the Bill of Rights for a reason,” he continued. “People’s rights are being infringed upon and it’s resulting – in some cases – in death and in other cases extreme inconvenience in being able to purchase firearms.”

Pratt also said the background check system doesn’t do its job, as several of the more recent mass shooters in the U.S., including the suspect in the fatal shooting of 17 people in Parkland, Fla., were able to pass background checks.

Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @K_Schallhorn.



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Fishing fury: Alarm raised over 'someone in London trying to cook books and STEAL quotas'

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NORTHERN Irish fishermen are not getting a fair share of Brexit fish stocks because UK officials are “cooking the books” and “stealing quotas”, it has been claimed.

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Biden voters, in their own words, ahead of Inauguration Day

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As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to be sworn in under an extraordinary security threat, his supporters are watching with mixed, and often conflicting, emotions.

Interviews with five Biden voters in different states revealed a maelstrom of relief and fury, elation and devastation, delight and exasperation. Many are grappling with reconciling their intense feelings of anger at President Donald Trump and some of his supporters over their roles in the violent riot on Capitol Hill with the joy that their candidate won — and that he is finally on the verge of taking office.

Others are experiencing the events of the last two weeks through a more political lens, struggling to embrace Biden’s push for unity while preferring that he undertake deep, structural change on a myriad of issues. Some expressed fear for Biden’s life and for the voters of color who supported Biden and whose pivotal votes Trump and his allies have sought to undermine.

All of these voters, first interviewed by NBC News before the Nov. 3 election, cast their ballots for Biden, some for very different reasons. Here’s what they’re thinking, fearing and feeling now, just ahead of Inauguration Day.

‘It feels like his life is under threat’: Keara Skates, 20, Atlanta

“We thought the hard part was the election, specifically with turning Georgia blue,” said Skates, a sophomore at Georgia State University in Atlanta. “Then we thought the hard part was the runoffs. But the really hard part is now it’s that we have to now wonder, ‘Will Biden be alive in order to even be sworn in?’

“Truthfully, I worry, because it feels like his life is under threat, with Trumpers being so overzealous and clearly willing to get so aggressive, despite touting the idea of law and order,” she added.

“I think because Trump does have enough people on his side, they’re going to be pissed off for a long time. I’m concerned specifically for minorities, for retaliatory violence against minorities and marginalized groups,” said Skates, who is Black.

“I’m feeling anxiety about it. But I’m also feeling that we did the hard things before, and we can do them again.”

‘No choice but to be hopeful’: John Gilbert, 71, Iowa Falls, Iowa

“This whole year has been kind of dreamlike,” said Gilbert, who runs a family-owned farm. “You keep thinking maybe you’ll wake up and realize it was all just a nightmare. But that hasn’t happened so far. That said, I’m of the opinion that you have to have a lot of optimism going forward, because anything is going to be better than what we’ve had.

“The fact that 70-some million drank Trump’s Kool-Aid — I live amongst a lot of them, and I still have no comprehension of what it is they see in him — that he’s been able to delude and mislead so many people, it just boggles my mind,” he added.

“I’m not sure how people get so misled, or maybe it’s that they’re so intent on believing what they want to believe anyway so that they just cannot see reality, which bothers me even more, but going forward, even with all of that, we really have no choice but to be hopeful,” said Gilbert, who is white.

“There are so many challenges facing the country right now that it’s at the point where you don’t even know where to start. But obviously, the pandemic is the highest priority, followed by what happened the other day [in the U.S. Capitol], and I can say safely that Biden is going to handle both better than Trump. Anything is going to be an improvement. We have to be optimistic, have to hope, as Gerald Ford said, that the long national nightmare is over.”

‘Concerns about how much will actually change’: Nicole Small, 38, Detroit

“While I am absolutely elated that Trump is officially going to be out of office soon, I do have some concerns about how much will actually change with Biden as president,” said Small, a human resources worker in Detroit and vice chair of the commission that considers revisions to the city’s charter.

“I do know this administration will act presidential, compared to what we’ve experienced the last four years, but as far as the real changes that are needed, well, I’m curious and concerned about what that will look like. Will they push the George Floyd bill? What will their police reform look like? What are their plans to make sure there are serious repercussions for the people who won’t stop engaging in violence, like the domestic terrorists who got into the Capitol?” said Small, who is Black.

“Don’t get me wrong, I am still very happy, there is a sense of relief that Biden is about to be sworn in as our president,” she said. “But I have some concerns, and I’m cautious over how fully enthusiastic I will be about the administration.”

‘Cautiously optimistic’: Tommy George, 63, Charlotte, N.C.

“I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m not happy with some of his Cabinet picks so far. I would have liked to see a little bit more from the progressive wing of the party, but that’s OK, because it’s 100 percent better than what we’ve had,” said George, the owner of specialty foods company. “He promised all this change, but I know, especially after the events last week, he needs to take it a bit slower.

“The pendulum needs to swing, but I understand that it needs to swing gradually and that reaching compromises over policy will be a big part of that,” he added.

George, who is white, initially supported Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., for president before Biden won the Democratic Party’s nomination.

“I really commend Biden for the way he’s handled the riots. He hasn’t stoked the fire. He’s been talking about unity and calming things down, but yes, it’s hard for me to reconcile my desire for big progressive change with calls for unity with the same people who helped cause all this violence in the first place,” he said.

“But you know, when it comes to Biden calling for unity, what is the alternative? We really need to come together before anything can change. But things do have to change.”

‘Quite hopeful’: Maureen Kelly, 61, Charlotte, N.C.

“I’m actually feeling quite hopeful,” said Kelly, an airline company stock clerk.

“I know there are huge divisions in the country, and I know there is a lot of fear and anxiety. But I’m feeling relief and hope, really just from the fact that there will be such a change in language and style from our current commander-in-chief,” said Kelly, who is white.

“I just see Trump’s whole style as negative and ugly and bullying,” she said. “And to go from that to someone who isn’t tweeting all the time, who isn’t attacking people, who is accepting and kind and wants to work together with other people and the other party, who isn’t constantly saying nasty things, that in and of itself is a huge change for the better.”

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Verhofstadt admits 'EU needs real reboot' as he welcomes Biden – 'Can't solve our problem'

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GUY VERHOFSTADT admitted the EU needs a “real reboot” as he congratulated Joe Biden on his inauguration day, warning the new US President “cannot solve Europe’s problems”.

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