The National Rifle Association’s political activism division has refuted the conclusions of a new General Accounting Office report that documented how undercover investigators were able to purchase firearms using phony identification.
The GAO study, requested by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the ranking minority member of the House Government Reform Committee, and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y. — both strong gun-control supporters — said its investigators were able to buy firearms using false IDs in Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, Virginia and West Virginia.
According to the GAO report, all of those states meet the “minimum requirements” of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, which searches the backgrounds of prospective firearm purchasers for criminal or other information that would disqualify them from buying a gun.
In a letter to Waxman, the GAO said, “Specifically, you asked that we attempt to purchase firearms, acting in an undercover capacity and using counterfeit identification, in states that rely on the instant background check and do not require fingerprinting or a waiting period for such purchases.
“In addition, you requested that we determine how easily firearms can be purchased using the Internet,” said the GAO.
The government watchdog agency said the five states examined did not have “additional requirements for fingerprinting or waiting periods” before allowing buyers to buy guns. Rather, those states simply relied on the federal NICS system to determine a prospective buyer’s criminal history.
“To address your concerns, we created counterfeit state driver’s licenses for the five states with fictitious names, dates of birth, and/or social security numbers using off-the-shelf software, a scanner, a laminator, and a color laser printer,” the GAO report said.
“Two special agents acting in an undercover capacity used the counterfeit driver’s licenses in attempts to purchase firearms from gun stores and pawn shops that were licensed by the federal government to sell firearms” the report said, adding that agents “selected these gun stores and pawn shops at random from the yellow pages of the local telephone directories.”
The GAO said its agents also attempted to buy two firearms from two individuals over the Internet, but “neither individual would send firearms through the mail.” However, “both were willing to complete these transactions in person,” though the GAO’s investigators — as requested by Waxman’s office — “did not attempt” to do that.
The watchdog agency concluded that “in the five states” examined, “the instant background check does not positively identify purchasers of firearms. Rather, it is a negative check that cannot ensure that the prospective purchaser is not a felon or other prohibited person whose receipt and possession of a firearm would be unlawful.”
“Further, in one state when we purchased a revolver, the salesperson advised us that the NICS check was not required because the firearm had been manufactured over 100 years ago, in approximately 1893,” said the report.
In a separate letter to Rep. Joseph Hoeffel, D-Pa., the GAO said that under the law, firearms manufactured before 1898 were exempt from NICS checks.
Waxman and McCarthy have used the GAO investigation to claim that the NICS system is in need of strengthening.
But the National Rifle Association and some congressional critics say the issue is more about “identity fraud,” and should not be about gun control.
Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., a former federal prosecutor and an NRA board member, said he was not surprised by the GAO’s findings.
“Today’s report … should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who understands even elementary law enforcement,” he said Wednesday. “Fake IDs are a national problem that allow criminals to evade all sorts of legal barriers.
“If these individuals (lawmakers who promote attacks on the Second Amendment) were serious about keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals they would support, as I do, aggressive prosecution of the criminal laws already on the books,” Barr said.
The NRA, in an e-mail alert published the same day, echoed Barr’s statements, adding that officials with the gun rights group pointed out inequities surrounding identification verification in the late 1980s.
“In congressional testimony delivered on June 16, 1987, NRA pointed out that any background check, instant or not, will have the same problem,” the NRA said.
The group said that NRA-ILA Executive Director James Jay Baker noted during congressional testimony on S. 466, The Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1987:
With only a ‘name check’ being conducted, all that can be determined is whether a person with that name has a criminal history. But as Assistant Attorney General John R. Bolton noted in a letter of March 19, 1986, to the House Judiciary Committee Chairman: ‘Those persons with a criminal record who are prohibited from purchasing a handgun are the ones most likely to obtain false identification documents to support a new name.
Furthermore, the NRA said that those trying to use the GAO report to push for stronger gun-control laws such as firearms licensing and/or registration of gun owners are “ignoring the findings of this report.”
“Any anti-gun schemes will be subject to the same kind of fraud and misrepresentation, and will serve only to harass the law-abiding. Ultimately, this issue goes far beyond gun identification or gun purchases,” the group said in its alert.
Some gun-rights supporters, however, were not impressed with the NRA’s proposed solutions.
“The solution lies in state-issued driver licenses or ID cards that serve as the basis of identification for virtually all transactions of money, goods, and services,” said the NRA alert. “Some states are working to improve their identification systems, and have moved to address ID fraud with measures that confirm identity and residence before issuing IDs. Other measures, such as duplicate photos on the license, are effective in preventing tampering after issuance.”
“NRA has long supported such reforms, and we will continue to do so,” said NRA.
Privacy rights advocates are against such identification measures because they fear that eventually such a concept will be taken nationwide and that the federal government will eventually mandate national ID cards.