Firearm and Explosives Background Checks Involving Terrorist Watch List Records Page: 2 of 47
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possessing firearms or explosives because they appear on the terrorist watch list.3
Rather, there must be a disqualifying factor (i.e., prohibiting information) pursuant to
federal or state law, such as a felony conviction or illegal immigration status.
In response to your request, this report addresses (1) the number of NICS
background checks involving terrorist watch list records, the related results, and the
FBI's current procedures for handling these checks and (2) the extent to which the
FBI has taken action to collect information from NICS background checks involving
terrorist watch list records and share this information with counterterrorism officials
to support investigations and other counterterrorism activities. To conduct this
work, we reviewed relevant laws, regulations, policies, and procedures related to
NICS background checks on individuals attempting to purchase firearms or obtain a
firearm or explosives license or permit. We also obtained data on NICS background
checks that resulted in valid matches with terrorist watch list records from February
2004 (when NICS started checking against terrorist watch list records) through
February 2009. We discussed the sources of data with FBI officials as well as the
policies and procedures that FBI officials used to maintain the integrity of the data,
and determined that the data were sufficiently reliable for the purposes of this
review. We also reviewed FBI policies and procedures for collecting and sharing
information related to NICS background checks involving terrorist watch list records,
and interviewed officials from relevant FBI components.
In summary, from February 2004 through February 2009, FBI data show that 963
NICS background checks resulted in valid matches with terrorist watch list records;
of these matches, approximately 90 percent were allowed to proceed because the
checks revealed no prohibiting information and about 10 percent were denied.
Regarding FBI procedures for handling these checks, in response to a
recommendation in our January 2005 report, the FBI began conducting all NICS
background checks involving terrorist watch list records in July 2005-including
those generated via state operations-to ensure consistency in handling.4 Moreover,
in April 2005, the FBI issued guidance to its field offices on the availability and use of
information collected as a result of NICS background checks involving terrorist
watch list records to help support investigations and other counterterrorism efforts.
In April 2007, the Department of Justice (DOJ) provided legislative language to
Congress that would give the Attorney General discretionary authority to deny the
transfer of firearms or the issuance of a firearm or explosives license or permit when
a NICS background check reveals that the purchaser is a known or suspected
terrorist and the Attorney General reasonably believes that the person may use a
firearm or explosives in connection with terrorism. A related bill was introduced in
the 111 Congress and is currently pending (H.R. 2159). Neither DOJ's proposed
legislative language nor the related bill include provisions for the development of
guidelines further delineating the circumstances under which the Attorney General
3 The FBI's Terrorist Screening Center maintains the U.S. government's terrorist watch list, which
contains information about individuals "known or appropriately suspected to be or have been engaged
in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism." Applicable records from
the watch list are searched during NICS background checks.
GAO-09-125R NICS and Terrorist Watch List Records
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Firearm and Explosives Background Checks Involving Terrorist Watch List Records, text, May 21, 2009; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc300667/m1/2/: accessed January 19, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.