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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release August 6, 1998
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY

                           The Briefing Room

1:42 P.M. EDT

MR. LOCKHART: Hello, everybody. Welcome. Before Barry and P.J. and the rest come down, the President's Domestic Policy Adviser, Bruce Reed, and Jose Cerda, who is the Special Assistant for Domestic Policy and one of the instrumental people here at the White House in putting the President's crime agenda and the work he's done over the last few years on crime, are here to talk about the President's announcement today on the extension of the Brady Bill.

MR. REED: The President made two announcements today. First, he urged Congress to make the Brady waiting period a permanent requirement before it expires on November 30th of this year. And he strongly opposed efforts by some members of Congress backed by the gun lobby to sabotage the final implementation of the National Insta-Check System under the Brady Bill, with an amendment that passed the Senate that would prohibit the FBI from charging a fee for records checks, would require the FBI to immediately destroy records, and it would permit law suits against the FBI.

Let me explain a little bit about how the Brady Law works, and if you have questions we'll try to answer them. Since the Brady Law went into effect in 1994, in February of 1994, it has stopped 242,000 felons, fugitives, stalkers, and other prohibited purchasers from buying handguns. Twenty-seven states have their own background check or permit systems and are exempt from the Brady Law requirements. In the other 23 states, the Brady Law requires gun dealers to notify local law enforcement of every prospective handgun purchaser, and law enforcement has up to five days to run a background check.

On November 30th of this year, this requirement of the Brady Law will sunset and be replaced by a National Insta-Check System for all firearms, not just handguns. Gun dealers will no longer have to check with local law enforcement, and there will be no waiting period whatsoever unless the national system detects a prior arrest that needs to be investigated.

So today the President endorsed legislation sponsored by Congressman Schumer and Senator Durbin that will require gun dealers to check with local law enforcement as well as with the National Insta-Check System and impose a minimum three-day wait for handguns and give law enforcement up to five days, if necessary, to run the background checks.

As I said, he also expressed his strong opposition to an amendment sponsored by Senator Smith of New Hampshire that would prohibit the FBI from charging a fee for background checks, require the FBI to destroy records from clean background checks, and actually establish a federal right to sue the FBI if records are not immediately destroyed, which demonstrates that congressional Republicans don't want to let patients sue HMOs for denying them medical treatment, but are perfectly happy to sue the FBI for trying to keep handguns out of the hands of criminals.

Q What is the fee that the FBI charges for a background check?

MR. REED: I believe it's about $15 a check.

Q Does this affect long guns?

MR. REED: The waiting period does not. It's just handguns.

Q Would this bill apply to gun shows or to private sales of weapons, and is the administration looking at all at any legislative changes that could impose waiting periods or those types of restrictions on private sales?

MR. REED: This only applies to federally licensed gun dealers. So it wouldn't necessarily apply at gun shows. The Treasury Department has been looking into gun shows and has an active effort to crack down on illegal sales, but we're not extending the reach of the Brady Law to those.

Q Do you have any sense of what volume of sales takes place through licensed gun dealers and what volume takes place in other venues -- other legal venues?

MR. CERDA: I do not. I know that the volume that we expect when we move forward with the Insta-Check system is about 7 million sales that we expect to process. I don't know how it divides the way you asked, though.

Q Where is the bill now? Is it in committee?

MR. REED: Yes, it's been introduced; there's been no action.

Q What's the prospect? Do you have any reading on this?

MR. REED: Well, I think that it is an issue that we're going to press hard for this fall. As I said, the waiting period expires on November 30th, so we're going to make a big push. One of the reasons we wanted to do it before Congress gets back is we want to be able to press this issue hard in September. And I think Congressman Schumer and Senator Durbin and other Democrats will be doing the same.

Q Do you think that the NRA is as powerful as it has been -- as influential?

MR. REED: Well, they clearly have a lot of influence over this Congress. We have been able to make a lot of progress over the last five years. The Brady Bill had been kept waiting for seven years before the President signed it into law. We were able to get the assault weapons ban as part of the crime bill. And we've been able to expand the reach of the Brady Bill; for example, it now covers domestic violence offenders as well. So we've had some victories along the way, but unfortunately they have too much sway over this Congress.

Q Congressman Schumer says that there are a lot of moderate Republicans who will support this bill. Why do you think none of them were here today?

MR. REED: I didn't check the list of attendees, but I think that there is a lot of pressure from the Republican leadership not to let gun issues come up. In the Senate, for example, we have been fighting hard to get a vote on whether to extend the Brady Bill to people with juvenile records. And the Republican leadership has consistently stopped us from even getting a vote on that.

So I think that though there is bipartisan support in the country for these kinds of changes and if it ever came to a vote, a number of moderate Republicans would probably join us, they certainly get pressure from their leadership not to do so.

Q Bruce, on the long guns, long guns are not -- were not part of the waiting period, but they are part of the Insta-Check.

MR. REED: That's correct.

Q Now, is that something that was -- that's an expansion of what the original intent of Brady was, is it not?

MR. REED: But that's a requirement that was passed as part of the -- when the Insta-Check system was first envisioned in '93-94.

Q Bruce, what is the White House argument for the FBI holding onto records of gun buyers it checks and finds no reason for them not to have a gun?

MR. REED: Well, what the Smith amendment would do is require the FBI to destroy those records immediately. And the FBI's concern is that they want to be able to audit records periodically to make sure that there aren't fraudulent records coming in. So they will ultimately destroy these records, but if they have to erase records the day after, they would never be able to tell if someone had fraudulently come in two or three times. So it's a -- it is not a privacy issue, it's just an effort to make sure that nobody is gaming the system.

Q Is the Insta-Check system something that will be fully operational on November 30th? I mean, will it -- it is feasible, there's no mechanical problems or --

MR. REED: No, it will be up and ready and we've invested a considerable amount of money in it. So we have a lot of confidence in the Insta-Check system, but the Insta-Check system will not have access to every set of criminal records. For example, it will take a while before every local infraction is immediately getting reported into the national system, and some may take a very long time -- domestic violence records we've only begun to add in the last year. And as Congressman Schumer has pointed out, the reason that it's important to check with local law enforcement is that some misdemeanor convictions -- often including domestic violence or some minor drug offenses -- aren't likely to show up in the national system. So we think it's important to check with the local law enforcement officer to make sure if there's been a very recent infraction or an infraction that might not show up in the national system.

Q Bruce, why do you think, especially now since the incident that happened on the Hill, the fatal shootings, why do you think that Congresspersons, many Congresspersons are not supporting this the way they should, the way the White House feels that they should?

MR. REED: Well, that's a very good question. (Laughter.) I think that it's a tragedy that just a few hours after the services, that the Senate went back and approved an amendment to allow importation of multi-round clips, for example. And I think that the Capitol shooting has focused the nation's attention once again on the importance of gun safety, and the Brady law and this extension that we've proposed are just commonsense measures that there really isn't any good reason for Congress not to support.

Q But wouldn't you think that the White House would use that as a strategy to kind of pressure some of those Congresspeople to push this through faster? I mean, it's a tragic situation, but that kind of validates your point.

MR. REED: Well, I think that we don't want to comment on the current case. Everyone is fully aware of what happened on Capitol Hill. But the most important thing is that we continue to come back and push for these commonsense measures. And I think that the American people have already made up their minds on the issue of gun safety: they support the Brady Bill, they support the assault weapons ban. It's always been a question of translating that broad bipartisan public support into real action here in Congress against some very powerful interests.

Q Just how instant is Insta-Check? Does a gun dealer call a number and run the name by, or do they have a terminal? How long does it take usually?

MR. REED: It's generally envisioned as a phone-in system, so it can be very quick.

Q Minutes?

MR. REED: Just like calling in to check on a credit card, for example.

Q And it's 24 hours, is it on weekends? I mean, does it operate all the time?

MR. CERDA: I'm actually not sure. But it is quite quick. The vast majority of checks we expect to take less than a minute.

Q What does Insta-Check look for?

MR. REED: Do you want to explain the three databases that it checks?

MR. CERDA: There are three major databases that it taps into. First, a newly created NICS database that includes some of the prohibited categories that have been added over time, like domestic violence and others that aren't in current federal databases. And then two key FBI data bases, what is called the III index and the NCIC, that keep most of the records, both federal, state, and local records of felony convictions.

In addition, in some states where we are working directly with the state, Insta-Check will incorporate whatever other state records are available to the state point of contact that would be working with the FBI. The Justice Department estimates that based on all those databases, if we were to do a handgun check today, we would have about 73 percent of all the pertinent records available to us.

Q What kind of data is returned to the gun dealer if there's a hit?

MR. CERDA: There are three simple answers. If there's no hit, it's proceed; if there's a hit, denied. If there's a hit, it is delayed and there is a period of up to three days, without the Schumer-Durbin bill, that they have to clarify the record to see if it is either an indictment or a conviction, or if it's an arrest record that has been cleared.

Q So the gun dealer doesn't get any information on the offense or the conviction or anything --

MR. CERDA: No, no.

Q -- just denied or delay?

MR. CERDA: Exactly, exactly.

Q Is the cost of the check usually passed on to the purchaser? Is that your understanding?

MR. CERDA: I would say that that's up to the gun dealer. The FBI, it's my understanding, does checks for all sorts of other -- day care providers, schools, and others -- and it charges on average a fee of about $15. That's what they hope to do here. I would say it's up to the gun dealer whether they want to pass it on to the purchaser or not.

I would also add that under the current Brady system, states that are doing the checks and local law enforcement officials that are doing the checks, generally, overwhelmingly from the surveys we've done to keep monitoring how Brady is working, do charge fees -- fees anywhere from $5 to $25, depending on the jurisdiction.

Q If an outstanding arrest warrant comes up in the check, are local police informed that this person was at a gun store in your neck of the woods, and you should check it out?

MR. CERDA: Well, I think you're speaking to one of the reasons that we support the Schumer-Durbin bill. There are currently a network of about 5,400 designated law enforcement officials that get the Brady paperwork and have the ability to do whatever check they think is appropriate. Under NICS, which is a good system and we have tremendous confidence in it, they will not continue to get the paperwork as a matter of course and intervene as they see appropriate. So the Schumer-Durbin bill keeps them in the loop, as I like to say, and makes sure that they continue to get the information so that they can act on it if they see any information like what you've noted.

Q Bruce, on another subject to which you are intimately involved, on tobacco, how serious is the latest snag in the state talks? And is the White House doing anything to try and get those going again?

MR. REED: I don't know how serious the snag is. I talked to Christine Gregoire last week, but I haven't gotten a recent update. We support what the attorneys general are trying to do. We supported their state cases and we hope that they will be able to continue to press the tobacco industry for more concessions.

Q The tobacco legislation on the national level, it's dead, right?

MR. REED: Well, we're extremely disappointed that the House Republican leadership decided last week to put this off yet again. We think that there is bipartisan support in Congress for this kind of legislation and that they should bring it to the floor for a debate.

Q Just out of curiosity, going back to the issues, if somebody were to try to purchase a gun and the information came up "deny", what would that person be able to do about it, because you're not telling them why it's been denied, and where would they go, because of the big database?

MR. CERDA: I am not certain what type of appeal process the FBI will have in place. That's something we'd have to check on. Having said that though, I would say that those records that we do have accessible are very up-to-date and accurate records and records that are used every day for all sorts of law enforcement purposes.

Q But just like a line of credit, sometimes they can screw it up? There's got to be some --

MR. REED: No, I'm sure that NICS will have procedures for checking into it, but keep in mind, the vast majority of these records are -- it's not like you paid your latest bill; it's a conviction that's there. It's not something that you can expunge. What the NICS system does show is that if there is a record that hasn't been cleared yet, it's not apparent whether it's gone. If there has been an arrest, but it hasn't either been an indictment or a conviction, then you get a big question mark on the screen, and they have to inquire further.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

MR. REED: Thank you.

END 1:00 P.M. EDT