UPDATE - Computer Flaw Halts Gun Sales Nationwide

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Saturday May 13 12:56 AM ET Title: FBI Computer Flaw Halts Gun Sales By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - A nationwide halt in firearms sales entered its third day today as FBI employees worked to fix an internal software problem in the bureau's criminal history database that halted instant background checks of gun buyers.

The FBI's Interstate Identification Index, a database containing criminal histories of 36 million people, stopped working late Thursday afternoon, the bureau said Friday. This computer failure halted gun sales because it prevented completion of background checks that the Brady law requires for buyers.

Gun dealers hoped for a quick fix because Saturday is their busiest day. But FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said bureau and contractor employees thought it would take until this evening or Sunday morning to get the system working again.

``It was an internal database problem, not the result of a hacking or external attack,'' Bresson said.

With the ``Million Mom March'' scheduled in Washington and 70 other cities Sunday to demand more gun controls and expanded background checks, both federal officials and gun dealers expressed concern that some people would jump to the conclusion the two events were linked or the background check failure was deliberate.

Federal officials rejected either idea. ``The mere suggestion that we would orchestra such a thing is totally outrageous,'' Bresson said.

Without background check approvals, gun dealers said that since Thursday afternoon they have been forced to tell their customers to wait for their guns until the system comes back up and the checks can be completed. It was not known how many sales were affected.

The computer failure made it impossible for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, to check the criminal histories for past felony convictions that bar people from buying guns. Also brought down was the FBI's automated fingerprint system.

Although gunstore owners in only about half the states file their background check inquiries directly with the FBI, the failure affected checks nationwide. In states where gun dealers place background check requests with a state police agency, that agency checks the FBI's criminal histories by computer in addition to its own records before approving or disapproving the sale.

``We can't release any guns to our customers until it's fixed,'' said Art Harris, owner of The Gentleman Hunter in Bethesda, Md. ``We haven't lost any deals yet, but Saturday is our biggest day.''

``I suppose some gun buyers are angry over the delay, but our customers have been very understanding,'' Harris said.

When the system is working, 72 percent of gun purchases are approved within 30 seconds, the Justice Department says. And 95 percent of buyers get an approval or a disapproval within two hours of their purchase application.

In its first 13 months of operation, the NICS system completed more than 10 million background checks. Only 5 percent required more than two hours to complete the background check.

``We had four prospective sales Friday, but we can't deliver the guns because we can't get approvals,'' said Tommy Thacker, manager of Loudoun Guns in Leesburg, Va. ``We just tell them we'll call them when the system is up.''

In Virginia, gun dealers like Thacker are linked by computer with the Virginia State Police, but that agency is linked to the FBI computer to check federal criminal history records. ``So the state can't give approvals,'' Thacker said.

``No one has gotten angry so far,'' Thacker said. ``But it could get sticky'' because once the sale applications are again accepted, the backlog could delay completion of some checks.

The Brady law gives law enforcement up to three business days to complete a gun check, but that period does not begin until the computer accepts the application.

The computer failure and threat of a backlog created a weekend of extra work at the FBI Criminal Information Center in Morgantown, W.Va., Bresson said. Federal officials said extra workers were being called in to clear any backlog over the weekend.

Other functions of the FBI's computerized National Crime Information Center 2000, that serves state and local police as well as federal agents around the nation, continued in service. The unaffected services included the FBI's lists of wanted people, fugitives, stolen guns and stolen property.



-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), May 13, 2000


I would love to know if this "internal database problem" is connected with Y2K. Does ANYONE have any connections who could find out?

-- Jan Nickerson (JaNickrson@aol.com), May 13, 2000.

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