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THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary


For Immediate Release February 6, 1999
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                 DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER AND 
         UNDER SECRETARY OF TREASURY FOR ENFORCEMENT JIM JOHNSON

The Briefing Room

4:10 P.M. EST

MS. WEISS: This radio address briefing and the report that is being released, Gun Shows, Brady Checks and Crime Gun Traces -- are both embargoed until 10:06 a.m. tomorrow, Saturday, February 6th. With the gun show going on in Atlanta, the President's radio address, the importance of our gun laws with respect to gun shows and potential dangers that exist when those sales are not monitored are very timely.

To talk about the report I'm pleased to introduce Eric Holder, the Deputy Attorney General; and Jim Johnson, the Under Secretary of the Treasury Department.

Again, this is embargoed until tomorrow at 10:06 a.m.

DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: This afternoon we are very pleased to brief you on our joint report to the President: Gun Shows, Brady Checks, and Crime Gun Tracing. The report was prepared by the Department of Justice and the Department of Treasury in response to the President's directive that the Attorney General and Secretary Rubin provide recommendations on closing the gun show loophole.

Simply stated, the gun show loophole allows felons and other prohibited persons to buy guns anonymously, without a Brady background check and without leaving any trace of the sale. The Brady Act and important federal record-keeping requirements do not apply to the sale of firearms by gun vendors who are not licensed gun dealers. And these non-licensees make up one-quarter or more of firearm vendors at gun shows.

Criminals have taken advantage of the fact that gun shows are unregulated to get guns for criminal activities and to buy and sell guns illegally.

Our report contains several recommendations, many of which will be carried out through legislation. Under our proposal, Brady background checks would be required for all guns that are sold at gun shows, even if the gun is sold by a vendor who is not licensed. In addition, strictly limited information about the guns that are sold at gun shows, but not about the buyers or sellers, would be provided to ATF to enable guns sold at gun shows to be traced if they turn up at a crime scene.

Specifically, the seven recommendations are as follows: One, first, the term "gun show" would be defined to include not only traditional gun shows, but also flea markets and other similar venues where firearms are sold.

Second, ATF would register all persons who promote gun shows. Third, if any part of a firearms transfer, transaction, including the display of a weapon, occurs at a gun show, the firearm could be transferred only by or with the assistance of a federally licensed gun dealer.

Fourth, federally licensed gun dealers would be responsible for submitting strictly limited information concerning all firearms transferred at gun shows, not including information about the buyer or seller, to the National Tracing Center.

Fifth, we will review the definition of "engaged in the business of dealing in firearms" under current law and make recommendations for appropriate legislative or regulatory changes.

Sixth, we're seeking additional resources to combat the illegal trade of firearms at gun shows. And, seventh, we should undertake an educational campaign in conjunction with the firearms industry to encourage firearms owners to sell their guns only to legal purchasers should they choose to sell at all.

Now, before turning to Jim, let me just take a moment to discuss the importance of requiring that a federally licensed gun dealer participate either as a vendor or as a facilitator in every firearm transfer, transaction, at a gun show.

Under our proposal, felons and other prohibited persons would be much less likely to buy firearms at gun shows, knowing that they would be subject to a background check. In the first nine weeks of operation -- that is since the National Instant Check System -- the NICS System -- went into effect on November 30th, 1998, the FBI has denied 16,253 perspective gun transfers based on information received from NICS. This represents about a 2 percent denial rate of 794,259 Brady checks that were handled by the FBI. And states have denied many other sales as well.

A number of the denials under NICS have resulted in the apprehension of wanted criminals who were seeking to purchase firearms. In addition, ATF is currently investigating those individuals who have received denials to determine whether cases for lying on the Brady Law form should be submitted for prosecution.

One final word on enforcement. We're pleased that the President's fiscal year 2000 budget includes additional funding for intensive firearms prosecution projects by the Department of Justice. Whether or not the gun show loophole is closed -- and it should be -- there will be illegal gun traffickers and purchasers who try to skirt the law. With additional funds for prosecution projects, we're confident that we will continue this administration's remarkable success in reducing violent crime.

As you all know, the nation's violent crime rate is down nearly 20 percent since 1992, and the number of violent crimes committed with firearms has dropped 27 percent. Closing the gun show loophole will enable us to do more to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and make our streets and communities safer.

On that note, I'll turn it over to Jim. Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY JOHNSON: Good afternoon. My name is Jim Johnson. I'm the Under Secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement. I'd like to place the gun show report in a larger firearms enforcement context and provide further details on the report's findings.

This gun show report and recommendations are part of the administration's ongoing effort to reduce illegal access to firearms by criminals and minors. Criminals will commit crimes to obtain guns -- there's no question about that. But there must be effective gun market rules and enforcement policies that stop criminals, juveniles and other prohibited persons from buying guns on the legal market. We must make it harder for them to buy guns illegally, and we must effectively punish and deter illegal firearms possessors, buyers, and users.

The Deputy Attorney General has described the loophole permitting sales at gun shows to occur without Brady checks and without transaction records being maintained. Some vendors at gun shows do not have to perform Brady checks or keep transaction records. This fact enables transfers that put guns in the hands of felons and unauthorized juveniles. Gun shows and similar venues offer access to firearms to felons who have been denied firearms purchases by licensed gun dealers conducting Brady checks.

The situation is also potentially unfair to sellers who do obtain federal licenses, who pay the federal licensing fee, who perform the Brady background checks, and who keep the records that assist law enforcement officials in tracing crime guns. The problem of crime associated with gun shows is real and it's significant. ATF surveyed its field divisions to learn about recent investigations involving gun shows. The field reported back on over 300 investigations that involved gun shows. These investigations involved over 54,000 firearms -- 54,000 firearms.

The investigations indicated a wide range of criminal activity associated with gun shows, including transferring firearms to persons prohibited from possession of firearms. Felons and minors have been able to purchase firearms at gun shows. In more than a third of the investigations, the firearms involved were known to have been used in subsequent crimes. These crimes included drug offenses, felons in possession of a firearm, assault, robbery, burglary, and homicide.

It only takes a few individuals to transfer large numbers of firearms into dangerous hands. More than a third of the investigations involved more than 50 firearms. The recommendations in the report are simple and fair. They do not affect unlicensed persons who buy or sell a single firearm outside a gun show from another unlicensed person.

I would like to underscore the importance of our commitment to additional law enforcement at gun shows. Our review shows that there is illegal activity at gun shows by both licensed and unlicensed gun sellers, as well as convicted felons. More enforcement resources at this time are critical. This is why the President's fiscal year 2000 budget includes $23.8 million for additional enforcement. That translates into, among other things, 120 new ATF agents to support investigations at gun shows; more enforcement activity to arrest violent criminals and other prohibited persons who unlawfully attempt to purchase a firearm, but fail a Brady background check; more agents to support local intensive firearms prosecution projects and to arrest gun traffickers who are illegally supplying guns to criminals and juveniles.

And that $23.8 million only refers to what has been provided to the ATF; the total package is on the order of $30 million -- somewhat less than that.

Gun traffickers may be licenses or unlicensed sellers. They may be selling from stores or gun shows. They may be straw purchasers working alone or with other traffickers. Or they may be felons or fences selling stolen firearms. Whoever they are, it's our goal to identify them and investigate those, as appropriate.

By building upon existing systems -- the gun dealer licensing system, the National Instant Check System, and crime gun tracing systems -- these are systems already in place and we're building on them today. These recommendations help to achieve the goals of preventing sales to prohibited persons and assisting law enforcement to identify illegal traffickers. The recommendations will help break the chain of illegal gun supply and advance the goal of effectively denying criminals and juveniles illegal access to firearms.

Thank you.

Q Do you have to have a new law for this, and NRA is obviously going to oppose it, right?

UNDER SECRETARY JOHNSON: New legislation is required for many of the recommendations set forth in the report.

Q On loopholes at gun shows?

UNDER SECRETARY JOHNSON: That's correct.

Q How many gun shows are there in the country?

UNDER SECRETARY JOHNSON: Approximately 4,400 per year.

Q All over the country?

UNDER SECRETARY JOHNSON: That's all over the country.

Q What portion of gun sales -- do you have any idea?

UNDER SECRETARY JOHNSON: Because gun shows are largely unregulated, we don't have a clear fix on the number of guns sales. But as I indicated just on the investigations that the ATF ran, there were some 50,000 involved in just 300 investigations.

At many gun shows you may find as many as thousands of guns for sale, some of them from licensed gun dealers; some of them from vendors that are at tables; and some of them simply from people walking around with single or just a handful of guns to sell.

Q They can just sell at any -- without any check?

UNDER SECRETARY JOHNSON: The licensed dealers have to conduct a Brady check. The unlicensed sellers do not need to conduct a Brady background check.

DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: The effect of that means that a person who is a fugitive, a person who is a felon, a person who has been convicted of domestic violence, a person with a mental problem can go to a gun show and buy a gun from an unlicensed dealer. That is a loophole that just must be closed.

Q How do you police against flea markets? Flea markets aren't put together like a gun show is. How would you do that?

UNDER SECRETARY JOHNSON: Well, one of the recommendations would require anyone essentially that is engaged in a gun show, and what we do in the recommendation is broaden the definition of gun show. So that you have your traditional gun show, but the definition is broad enough to include those events where two or more people are engaged in a sale of at least 50 firearms.

The system that we would propose to put in place would require even the flea market promoter to notify the ATF of the potential for these sales to take place. And then the additional requirements of requiring all the sales of guns at the flea market would involve Brady checks for all of the sales.

Q But don't you think that the flea market situation isn't going to work, for the fact that a lot of these flea markets are put together by community groups, neighborhoods, who are really oblivious to this kind of information?

UNDER SECRETARY JOHNSON: One of the things that we want to do is get this information out so we don't have people that are oblivious to this information.

Q Do you think Congress will be receptive to this?

DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: I'd certainly hope that they would be. I mean, I think we have shown, through the comprehensive program that the President has used over the last six years, that it has resulted in very significant crime drops. One of the main components of the comprehensive program has been regulating the sale of firearms. This is, it seems to me, just part and parcel of that which has proven to be effective. And if we are to continue to be effective and not be complacent, we have to have, I think, this legislation.

Q Isn't the Brady law running out? Or is it still in effect?

DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: No. We have the National Instant Check System now. The President has proposed, however, that we go back to -- that we have a waiting period for guns, that you could go to apply for a gun and that there would be a waiting period. I think that is also something that we also have a proposal to extend the time in which the FBI and state authorities would have, in which to run the checks. It's now three days and we think that should be increased to five days. The President has proposed that there be a three-day waiting period for anybody who wants to buy a gun.

Q Since this is such a wide-ranging problem, you said earlier, why now? Why all of a sudden deal with this issue now, and not before?

DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: Well, I mean, it's clearly a problem -- it was identified by the President as a loophole that existed in the law that had been passed, and that is why the President directed the Secretary of the Treasury and the Attorney General to close that loophole. We think we have come up with a program that will effectively close that loophole, and ultimately make the streets of our country a lot safer.

Q Is the NRA opposition waning a bit to all of this?

DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: I wouldn't want to be a spokesman for the NRA, I simply don't know what their position would be on this. But it would seem to me that any reasonable person who would look at what are very reasonable --

Q We're not talking about reasonable people. We're talking about the NRA.

DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: Well, that was your characterization. (Laughter.)

Q You're not afraid of irritating them, are you?

DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: Well, no, no, no. But I would say any reasonable person looking at these proposals would see that we have identified a problem and have taken an approach that is, in fact, reasonable. It is not over-regulation. It looks at people who are selling guns out of their private collections, for instance, to other collectors, and does not deal with them.

We're really trying to get at people who are criminals, or people who should simply not be in possession of guns. I don't think there's any principled basis for opposition to this proposal.

Q Can you name the top states for where these types of sales take place?

UNDER SECRETARY JOHNSON: We have that in our report, and I can, hopefully, turn, flip the directory quickly to the page -- maybe not so quickly -- page four of the report. And those states would be Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, California, Indiana, North Carolina, Oregon, Ohio and Nevada. And that would be page four of this report.

Q Thank you.

END 4:20 P.M. EST