The FBI has agreed to consider modifying its criminal background check system after the Justice Department’s inspector general found the system did not cross check the buyer’s age with legal requirements of their home state, according to a report released on Thursday.
Under federal law, customers are not allowed to buy firearms, specifically a rifle or a shotgun, in a jurisdiction that is different from the address listed on their identification unless the customer’s age is legal in both the state of sale and where the person lives, according to the report.
The findings stem from an Office of Inspector General’s audit that was launched, in part, after Colorado lawmakers asked the agency to probe the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which is used by licensed federal firearms sellers and other retailers, after an 18-year-old purchased a shotgun in Colorado even though she was a resident in Florida, which prohibits the sale of firearms to anyone under 21.
The report did not identify the teen buyer, but the circumstances outlined in the report appear to point to the case of Sol Pais, who traveled to Colorado in April 2019 and purchased a shotgun from an authorized seller. The NICS system didn’t have the capability to verify that she was a Florida resident.
Florida raised the age to purchase a firearm to 21 after the 2018 Parkland massacre inside a high school on Valentine’s Day. Pais, who authorities said was obsessed with the 1999 Columbine High School shooting and considered a threat to the school, was found dead in Colorado after a 24-hour manhunt.
The inspector general’s report, which covers fiscal year 2017 to October 2020, found that not only did the NICS system lack the capability to automatically check the buyer’s age and the laws where they live, the Colorado seller also didn’t take the extra step to manually verify Florida’s eligibility requirements.
“To mitigate the risk of recurrence, we recommend the FBI strengthen controls over the sale of firearms to out-of-state purchasers by updating the NICS background check to verify age requirements of an out-of-state firearm purchaser in both the purchaser’s state of residence and the state of sale to ensure basic age eligibility,” according to the report.
The FBI agreed to consider making the modifications to the system.
“We agree it is important to strengthen controls over the sale of firearms to out-of-state purchasers by updating the NICS background check to verify age requirements of an out-of-state firearm purchaser’s state of residence and state-of sale to ensure basic age eligibility. In that regard, we concur with your recommendation for the FBI,” Thomas G. Seiler, from the FBI’s external audit and compliance section, wrote in response to the inspector general’s report.
During a hearing last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray said that the agency has processed 40 million firearm background checks.
Gun sales have been through the roof across the country during 2020 and into this year. Nearly 23 million guns were purchased in 2020 – a 65% increase from 2019, according to data collected by Small Arms Analytics, a consulting firm based in Greenville, South Carolina.
Two pieces of firearm legislation passed in the House earlier this year – the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021, which would expand background checks for all firearm sales and transfers, and the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021, which would close a loophole that allowed some licensed gun sales to go through before a required background check is complete.