Gun Background Checks' Three Day Limit

Gun Background Checks' Three Day Limit

Yesterday, news broke that Dylann Roof should have failed his background check to buy a gun, owing to a pending drug charge. The FBI wasn't able to confirm that he was prohibited — apparently they contacted the wrong agency, and a prosecutor's office never returned a phone call — and after three business days passed it became legal for the gun store to give him the weapon.

Here's a detail that too often goes unmentioned: After three days, law enforcement can still make efforts to retrieve a gun that was sold improperly. From the FBI:

Firearm Retrieval Referrals

Because of the NICS Section's commitment to public safety and national security, the search for needed disposition information continues beyond the three business days to provide a determination as stated in the Brady Act. In some instances, the information is subsequently obtained and a final status determined; however, if the final status (determined after the lapse of three business days) results in a deny decision and the NICS Section is advised by the FFL that the firearm was transferred, then the ATF is notified a prohibited person is in possession of a firearm. In 2013, the NICS Section referred 3,375 firearm retrieval actions to the ATF.

The gun was sold April 16. The shooting was June 17. And CNN says the government didn't officially deny the application until a week after the shooting.

We can have a debate about the three-day period; it both protects Second Amendment rights from bureaucratic incompetence and creates an avenue through which prohibited buyers can obtain guns. But the three-day period is not the end of the story here.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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