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Jonathan Kraut: Background checks are not ‘universal’

Posted: February 5, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 5, 2013 2:00 a.m.

 A lot of politicians are clamoring for mandatory "Universal Background Checks" for all gun buyers nationwide. There is no harm to anyone’s privacy if gun buyers are screened for criminal records, a history of domestic violence, mental health risk, or other criteria that indicate having a weapon could put others at risk. After all, past behavior helps predict future conduct. I believe that it is the human mind that is the danger and not the instrument that is used.

The FBI reports "Mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 and launched by the FBI on Nov. 30, 1998, NICS is used by Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms or explosives."

The term "instantly determine" is a fraud, as I will describe in a bit. My other concern is with the term "Universal," implying the inclusion of all relevant criminal, domestic (family law and orders of protection), and mental health records, which is currently not available.

If you or members of your family have co-workers, hire employees or contractors, enjoy assisted living or senior care, have children in the care of others, or have neighbors or friends, this pertains especially to you (I think that is everyone).

Having owned and operated a private investigations firm that specializes in background checks and employment screening for over 15 years, I can authoritatively tell you that there is no such thing as an "Instant" or "Universal " background check through government databases.

The first problem is accessing criminal and domestic violence data. Most records are kept county by county.

In Los Angeles County and ten other counties in California, for example, the only way to determine if there is a record is to search through a clerk in person at the courthouse. Further, there are no statewide databases in 28 states.

Even "instant background checks" on-line have disclaimers and only contain about 30 percent of the nation’s records.

Instant searches do not include pending cases, warrants for arrest and federal crimes.

This information is not integrated, i.e. each state has to be researched by hand, one at a time, and therefore data cannot be obtained "instantly."

The second problem is that "Live Scan," used to screen gun buyers and those holding state licenses, i.e. security guards, home health professionals, child caregivers, and doctors and nurses, only contains criminal information in the state running the scan.

Deputy Director of the California Department of Justice Juan Chacon told me that the California Live Scan system only contains arrest and conviction information filed in California.

Additionally, many states have not implemented a Live Scan system at all. You can’t search databases that don’t exist.

To add to the confusion further, FBI records, reported abuse to children and the elderly, mental health records, and terrorist watch-list information are separately indexed and are not currently part of any integrated background check system.

It is obvious that, unless conducted by hand by a trained agent, there is no way to assure the public that when a gun is sold the buyer is of sound mind and good character.

To compound matters even more, applicants lie.

Last year my firm processed about 20,000 background checks and we identified about 2,775 folks who lied on their employment application.

My experience is that year after year about 15 percent of all those submitting to a background check lie about their criminal history, including some who had already passed a "Live Scan."

The FBI brags "More than 100 million such checks have been made in the last decade, leading to more than 700,000 denials."

They must be missing cases because denials represent only a 1 percent denial rate. I estimate about 14.3 million times gun buyers slipped through the cracks.

The Constitution of the United States offers to "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare..." I interpret that this means implementing a true method to deter criminals, the obsessed, and crazies from having access to deadly devices.

Without a serious conversation as how to make us all safer, be assured the solutions our politicians now are offering have no value without an expensive overhaul of our record systems.

Jonathan Kraut owns a private investigations firm and serves in the Democratic Party of the SCV and on the SCV Interfaith Council. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or other organizations.


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