The FBI issued more than 4,000 orders to retrieve weapons purchased by people who should not have passed background checks in 2016. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
FBI records show the bureau issued more than 4,000 requests to retrieve guns from people who should not have passed background checks.
How were they able to buy the guns?
The FBI’s background check system requires analysts to complete the checks within three days. If 72 hours passes and no background check is completed, the sale of the gun goes forward, regardless of the purchaser’s history.
So if the FBI later earns that someone bought a gun but actually has a criminal history, mental health issues or other disqualifying problems, ATF agents get the unenviable job of making house calls to take the guns back.
It’s easy to see how dangerous it could be for a federal agent to attempt to seize a weapon from someone who should never have been allowed to own it.
Why are so many background checks taking too long?
A record 27.5 million background check requests came across the desks of FBI analysts last year.
The issue of background check failures came to the forefront after Devin Kelley, who was allowed to purchase a rifle despite a violent history, used the gun in a massacre at a Texas church in November.
The Air Force didn’t transmit the record of Kelley’s domestic assault court-martial to the FBI, which allowed him to pass the background check.
How many retrieval attempts are successful?
The FBI said the ATF isn’t required to report back on the status of the retrieval efforts, so it’s unknown how many of the record 4,170 retrieval attempts in 2016 were successful.
However, a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general showed that 116 out of 125 examined transactions were successful between 2008 and 2014.
What can be done?
There are some who favor extending the 3-day background check time limit to prevent cases of the deadline passing without a proper screening.
Larry Keane, general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said he supported the provision of more resources to the FBI to complete checks, rather than extending the time limit.
But former ATF official David Chipman believes the time limit is only as short as it is as a concession to the gun industry.