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Firearm Background Checks

DREW NASH • TIMES-NEWS Employee Josh Popa fills out a background check on a buyer Tuesday afternoon, March 25, 2014, at Red's Trading Post in Twin Falls.

TWIN FALLS, Idaho • Two generations ago, it wasn’t unusual to find a permission slip left at Red’s Trading Post by a father saying it was alright for his young son to come by later and buy a gun.

Those days are long gone.

“Back in the day, my grandfather used an old hotel register,” Ryan Horsley, the store’s general manager said, of the former filing system.

Now, customers must fill out a detailed transaction record. The questionnaire asks the customer if they’re a felon, a fugitive, illegally in the United States, if they have renounced their citizenship and if they’ve ever been adjudicated mentally unfit or committed to a mental institution, among others. The answers on that form are checked against the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Until last year, that instant background check wouldn’t have included Idaho’s mental health records. According to a 2012 Government Accountability Office report, 17 states, including Idaho, had submitted fewer than 10 records of individuals prohibited for mental health reasons. The Idaho State Police’s Bureau of Criminal Identification is in charge of sending the records to the FBI. Now, Dawn Peck, manager of the bureau, says the backlog has been cleared out.

When ISP started to send the records in 2012, the FBI accepted only about 2,500 and rejected nearly 17,000 of them, because of data entry errors, Peck told the Times-News last year. Peck said that issue has been solved.

“It was a programming issue,” she said.

The FBI’s data collecting system couldn’t accept the way Idaho delivered it, she said. Now, ISP has converted to the FBI’s system, she said.

With the backlog gone, ISP will deliver new mental health records as they come in.

The bureau has also nearly finished double checking 20 years of old records of involuntarily committed people to ensure they’re entered accurately, Peck said.

States were required to begin submitting the mental health records in 2009. However, Idaho didn’t enact a law that would allow the ISP’s Bureau of Criminal Identification to obtain and transmit eligibility to possess a firearm to the FBI until 2010. The bureau began transmitting the records in 2012 after it had spent several years securing enough federal funding and finished setting up the record transmitting system.

Mental health records account for 29 percent of the records in the background check database, according to FBI statistics. Convicted criminal records make up just under 15 percent, while records of people in the United States illegally make up half of the records, as of Feb. 28. Convicts make up about 57 percent of federal firearm denials ever made by NICS, while adjudicated mental health issues make up 1.25 percent, the FBI’s website says.

Terry Horsley, Red’s owner and Ryan’s mother, said out of about 2,000 transactions a year, four or five are rejected by the instant background check. A few more than that are delayed by a day or two, she said.

Keeping the background check records is a huge part of the business of selling firearms and can be a hassle, Terry and Ryan said, but they’ve seen the checks at work. Once, while she was waiting for a background check to be completed over the phone, the person trying to buy the gun bolted from the store, Terry said. Soon after, the police showed up looking for him. Another time, while Ryan was on the phone, he said, the background checker asked the race of the man trying to buy the gun, an unusual question, he said. When he replied, the checker said the man was clear.

The customer said he wasn’t surprised: His identity had been stolen, and the person had bought guns in his name before and was in prison. The only way authorities could tell them apart on paper, was by their race.

The business is required to keep 20 years-worth of background check forms, Terry Horsley said.

The company started it’s new federal firearms license in 2009, so that means they’ll need a lot more than the six file cabinets they currently have.

The rules are always changing, down to the color of the paper that the forms must be printed on.

“We feel like we constantly have to go above and beyond,” Ryan Horsley said.

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Most Gun Background Checks Ranked by State

Rankings determined on a per capita basis using Census Bureau 2013 population estimates and are meant for comparison only. Number of background checks performed between November 1998 and Feb. 28, 2014, according to the FBI. The data listed is for background checks, not weapons purchased. There is not a one-to-one correlation between purchases and background checks. Find more detailed data from the FBI.

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