Report: Fake IDs Foil Gun Background Checks

ByCarter M. Yang and Oliver Libaw

W A S H I N G T O N, March 21, 2001 -- All it takes to get around Brady law background checks on gun purchases is a home-made fake I.D., according to a new government report.

Undercover agents using fake identifications easily foiled the national background check system, intended to prevent people with criminal records from buying guns, according to a new report by the General Accounting Office.

The current system "cannot ensure that the prospective buyer is not a felon or other prohibited person," the report concluded.

The GAO document details an investigation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, in which agents from the Office of Special Investigations tried to use false identifications to buy firearms from licensed dealers in Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, Virginia and West Virginia.

Their success rate was 100 percent.

Scanners, Color Printers, and Off-the-Shelf Software

The agents' fake IDs used fictitious names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers, and were created using off-the-shelf software, a scanner, a laminator, and a color printer to make them, the report said.

"The name could be Bugs Bunny and as long as there is no criminal record on file, the gun can be sold," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., an outspoken gun control advocate who asked the GAO to conduct its investigation.

The results of the investigation cast doubt on the effectiveness of the Brady Act — the landmark gun control legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by then-President Clinton in 1993.

Under the Brady Act, gun dealers are required to contact the NICS — a computerized system developed and run by the FBI — prior to every sale.

The system then checks the name of the prospective purchaser against a database of the names of people legally prohibited from owning firearms — including convicted felons, illegal aliens, people dishonorably discharged from the military and people with mental defects.

But the system has no way of verifying that the name provided by the buyer is actually theirs. That gaping loophole allowed the undercover agents to use fake names to obtain handguns and rifles, including semi-automatic weapons with high-capacity magazines.

Report Adds Fuel to Gun-Control Debate

Gun control advocates lauded the GAO investigation.

"We think this is a very important report. it draws attention to the weaknesses in the system which need to be fixed," said Handgun Control spokeswoman Nancy Hwa.

John Lott, a Yale University law professor who has researched the effects of the Brady Act and other gun laws, said the GAO report revealed the Brady Act's flawed approach to the problem of gun violence.

"My research shows that unfortunately as with a lot of gun control laws, it's basically the law abiding citizens, not the criminals who obey them."

He said there was "no academic research that's shown that the Brady Act has in anyway reduced crime rates."

Prior Problems With NICS

Today is not the first time serious deficiencies with the now 2 ½-year-old system have been exposed.

NICS went online in November 1998. During its first 18 months of operation, 6,084 people who were legally barred from owning guns were able to obtain firearms because the FBI failed to complete their background checks within the three days specified by law, according to the testimony of then-FBI Assistant Director David Loesch before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Under a provision of the Brady Act, if a buyer's record is not checked within three business days, the sale is allowed to proceed by default.

In the five states targeted by the GAO investigation, NICS is the only background check system in place.

Many other states, however, have imposed additional, more stringent safeguards such as fingerprinting or requiring the approval of all gun license applications by local police officials.

ABCNEWS' Tom Shine contributed to this report.

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