May 2002

Enhanced NICS

To improve the speed and efficiency of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has announced new government initiatives to streamline the approval process as well as to prevent illegal aliens and other prohibited persons from purchasing firearms. Highlights of the announcement include:

• Increased federal assistance to help states update and automate their criminal history files, and also new federal/state efforts for prosecuting those who illegally obtain and sell guns, and prosecuting those who commit crimes with firearms on school grounds.

• Under new NICS rules, the FBI will coordinate with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in reviewing the immigration status of non-U.S. citizens who seek to buy firearms. Federal law bars foreigners illegally in the country, and non-immigrant aliens (temporary visitors such a foreign students or workers) from purchasing or possessing guns. Exemptions are made for certain foreign visitors such as official government representatives, law enforcement officers, and individuals admitted to the U.S. for lawful hunting or sporting purposes or who have a valid U.S. hunting license. Permanent resident aliens are not prohibited.

• The FBI also has been directed to increase the speed by which it responds to background check queries from licensed firearm dealers. To reduce the rate of delayed responses, the FBI will now assign a special examiner to immediately review any questionable criminal history files and advise the dealer how to proceed.

----------

ATLANTA GUN SUIT DISMISSED. A unanimous three-judge panel of the Georgia Court of Appeals, in a clearly written decision, has dismissed the City of Atlanta’s lawsuit against 14 firearm manufacturers and their trade associations. The court ruled that the Georgia Constitution and state law preempted the field of gun regulation, and that the city, by attempting to regulate firearms through litigation, had improperly tried to usurp that power from the state.

“Through this lawsuit, the city seeks to punish the conduct which the state, through its regulatory and statutory schemes, expressly allows and licenses,” the court said. The Georgia Attorney General had filed an amicus curiae brief (friend-of-the-court) defending the constitutionality of the State preemption law. The City filed its action in February 1999 just as the industry was in Atlanta for the annual SHOT Show. Almost immediately, the Georgia Assembly enacted amendments to the State’s firearm preemption law that specifically prohibited the city’s suit.

“Atlanta’s lawsuit would not have saved a single life or prevented a single crime from occurring; all it did was waste taxpayer money,” said Lawrence G. Keane, vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Atlanta is the third case, joining New Orleans and Philadelphia, to be dismissed because of a state preemption statute passed expressly to prohibit such suits.


-by Todd Woodard