The Second Amendment Foundation said today that it supports the refusal by the Department of Justice to hand over firearms purchase background check records to the FBI, which wants to find out whether any of the 1,200 people detained after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack had purchased a gun.

The National Instant Check System (NICS) was created by Congress to check the criminal backgrounds of would-be gun buyers to determine whether they are legally able to own firearms. Legislation creating NICS, and regulations developed by the Clinton Administration to run the system, specifically prohibit the use of NICS records for the kind of investigation the FBI wants to conduct.

“There are other means of getting this information,” noted Alan Gottlieb, SAF founder. “If the FBI wants to trace the origins of firearms they take from suspected terrorists, they can go through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ tracking center, which can trace the gun from manufacturer, to distributor, to dealer, to buyer. On the other hand, if they are detaining someone who is not suspected of a gun crime, they have no legitimate reason to hijack the NICS records in an effort to learn whether that individual may own a gun.

“This is precisely the kind of ‘fishing expedition’ that gun owners and civil libertarians wanted to prevent when they successfully fought to limit the uses for NICS check records,” Gottlieb continued. “Indeed, this is exactly the kind of demand that civil rights activists predicted when NICS was created, and why language was included in the legislation to prohibit retention of NICS records. Simply because the government does retain that information – in direct contradiction to the Brady Law language – does not make it acceptable to further abuse the law, and the privacy of millions of gun owners who have not committed any crime.”

Gottlieb noted that a Justice Department spokeswoman explained the law very plainly when she said that the NICS legislation does not allow the use of records to investigate individuals. He pointed to a statement by Assistant FBI Director John Collingwood that, “applicable law does not permit” the use of NICS records “for this purpose.”

“The FBI,” said Gottlieb, “just answered its own question, and defined its own problem.”

The gun rights authority also expressed astonishment at the tone of contempt for the law in a statement by Los Gatos, CA Police Chief Larry Todd, a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police Firearms Committee. Todd, quoted by the New York Times, stated, “This is absurd and unconscionable…It sounds to me like it was made for narrow political reasons on a right-to-bear-arms mentality.”

Said Gottlieb: “If Chief Todd thinks it is absurd and unconscionable to zealously guard the privacy rights of firearms buyers, or any citizen for that matter, than he should perhaps be reminded that we live in the United States, not a police state.”

He was less surprised at remarks by the vehemently anti-gun Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), who told the newspaper that, “If the Department of Justice is not using the NICS database as part of the investigation, I am very concerned…”

“True to his nature,” Gottlieb observed, “Senator Schumer is being disingenuous. He knows perfectly well that NICS records may not be used in this kind of investigation. He authored the Brady Law, and creation of NICS was part of that legislation. The fact is, Charles Schumer always envisioned the Brady Law as a gun registration scheme, and he has seized on this opportunity to lament that the NICS records are strictly off-limits for that kind of political skullduggery.”

“Likewise,” Gottlieb added, “Mathew Nosanchuk, who served with the Clinton Justice Department and helped write gun records regulations, and is now litigation director for the anti-gun Violence Policy Center, was directly involved in creating the regulations for the system he now so conveniently criticizes. That’s not simply being disingenuous, it’s despicable.”

Reportedly, 34 guns seized in crimes had been purchased by individuals who are among those detained by the FBI. Gottlieb stressed that all of these guns can be traced legally without the NICS system as is currently done by law enforcement in gun crime cases.

Noted Gottlieb: “The Clinton Administration, which included Mr. Nosanchuk and was feverishly assisted by Senator Schumer, deliberately dragged its feet on implementation of the NICS system. That these men now want the system used in a way they know is prohibited by law speaks volumes about their disregard for the law, and for civil rights.”

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