Press Release

Schumer, Gillibrand: Gun Background Check Records Destroyed After Only 24 Hours, Leaving No Way to Trace Gun Purchases When Investigating Major Gun Crimes

Apr 19, 2009

Today, United States Senators
Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand criticized the federal policy
requiring that the records from federal gun purchase background checks be
destroyed after 24-hours because it severely ties the hands of law
enforcement and stated must be repealed. In a letter to President Barack
Obama, both Senators asked that the dangerous Tiahrt Amendments be
kept out of the FY 2010 Federal Budget, which is expected to be released
in the coming weeks. The Tiahrt Amendments have been included in the Bush
Administration’s Federal Budget for several years and the Senators are hoping
with a new administration, the Amendment’s will finally be left behind. Schumer
and Gillibrand are urging President Obama to reinstate a 90-day retention
period that existed before the current 24-hour period was implemented by the
Bush Administration in 2004.

“We shouldn’t be tying the hands of law enforcement when they
are trying to investigate serious gun crimes. We should be giving them every
available tool to fight these illegal activities,” said
Schumer. “Eighty-five of the guns used in crimes in New York City come from out of state.
Allowing law enforcement authorities simple access to firearms data is sound public
policy, will get guns off the streets, and will make New Yorkers safer.”

“As New York’s newest Senator, and
more importantly, a mother of two young sons, I want to do everything in my
power to give law enforcement the tools they need to keep guns out of the hands
of criminals and other dangerous people and reduce gun violence, said Senator
Gillibrand. “I will work with Senator Schumer and President Obama towards
common sense solutions that can help solve the problems we face.”

The Amendments, named after
Congressman Todd Tiahrt of Kansas, are a series of restrictions
on the use of data gathered by the of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and
Explosives (ATF) This data play a critical role in cracking down on gun
trafficking and other gun crimes. Specifically, one of the Tiahrt
Amendments requires the FBI to destroy certain National Instant Criminal
Background Check System (NICS) background check records within 24 hours. 
Schumer and Gillibrand are urging the President to support a return to the more
sensible 90-day retention period that existed before the 24-hour rule was put
in place in 2004.  Under current law, it is illegal for anyone to purchase
a gun if they fall into any one of several categories, including being a
convicted felon, having serious mental illness, being an illegal alien, or
having a domestic violence conviction.  The NICS check system searches an
individual’s background for such

It is now difficult to track how
many gun crimes could be prevented if the 90-day rule were reinstated, as the
records of all NICS checks in which a buyer is approved to buy a gun are now
destroyed in 24 hours.  However, data from before the rule was put in
place paint a troubling picture.  A 2002 GAO report showed that during the
first six months of the former 90-day record destruction period, the FBI
initiated 235 actions to retrieve guns from buyers who were wrongly approved to
purchase guns in the first place.  Of those 235 actions, 228 — or 97% —
could not have taken place if the 24-hour rule had been in place.

Another Tiahrt Amendment prevents
ATF from requiring gun dealers to check their inventories for lost and stolen
guns.  In 2008, the ATF reported 30,000 guns missing after inspection of
less than 10% of gun dealers the year before.

A final dangerous aspect of
the Amendments restricts states and localities from having full access to
aggregated trace data.  As a result, requests for data from traces of guns
used in crimes can be made only in connection with individual criminal investigations. 
States and localities are not allowed access to data that would allow them to
examine gun trafficking patterns. The restriction’s
effect on law enforcement is made clear by the case of Russell Timoshenko, an
NYPD officer shot while on patrol in Brooklyn
on July 14, 2007.  The gun used to kill him was traced to a gun dealer in Virginia who had
previously been indicted for gun sales practices. While the ATF was able
to provide the data on the particular gun used to kill Officer Timoshenko, the
Tiahrt Amendments did not allow any further data to be shared with New York City.  The
gun shop from which the gun originated is now closed.

It is estimated that 85% of the
guns seized in New York
crimes originate from out-of-state. In 2005, the New York District Attorney and
the New York Police Department exposed a Manhattan
resident who had sold undercover detectives 18 firearms, including an Uzi and
other assault weapons, and significant quantities of methamphetamine, half a
kilogram of cocaine, and other drugs. Trace data confirmed that the
defendant had bought the guns from three dealers outside of New York City.  One dealer had not only
sold the defendant assault rifles, but also falsified federal records about the
sales.  To help identify other traffickers who might have been using the
dealer, the District Attorney sought trace data on guns sold by the store and
recovered across the state.  The Tiahrt Amendments barred any such

The Tiahrt Amendments have been
included in the Bush Administration’s Federal Budget for several years and the
Senators are hoping with a new administration, the Amendment’s will finally be
left behind. Senators Schumer and Gillibrand are pushing for a smarter, safer
approach that would reinstate a 90-day retention period that existed before the
current 24-hour period was implemented by the Bush Administration in
2004. They are urging President Obama to do the right thing and put law
enforcement and the public first by leaving the Tiahrt Amendments out of the FY
2010 Federal Budget.

Schumer and Gillibrand also called
attention to a related problem raised in a recent troubling report in the New
York Times. 
The article identified the difficulties in tracking
weapons are complicating efforts to crack down on violence caused by Mexican
drug cartels.  By law, ATF can conduct an inventory audit of a gun dealer
once a year.  However, in practice, because ATF staff is stretched
thin, gun dealers are inspected far less frequently than that.  As recently
as 2007, ATF estimated that it would take 17 years to inspect every gun dealer
in the United States. This
was far from ATF’s stated goal of
being able to conduct routine inspections once every three years.  Schumer
and Gillibrand wrote a letter today to Attorney General Eric Holder, asking him
for an estimate of how much more ATF personnel would be needed in
order for the ATF to be able to inspect gun dealers at least every three
years, and perhaps annually.