New criminal background check system for gun dealers draws on three databases

When the National Instant Criminal Background Check System went on line at 9 a.m., Nov. 30, the response was overwhelming. One gun dealer called asking for 99 background checks on prospective gun buyers. That call took up the whole four-hour shift of one part-time employee, said Jim Kessler, NICS program manager at the FBI.

When the National Instant Criminal Background Check System went on line at 9 a.m., Nov.
30, the response was overwhelming.


One gun dealer called asking for 99 background checks on prospective gun buyers. That
call took up the whole four-hour shift of one part-time employee, said Jim Kessler, NICS
program manager at the FBI.


Other callers received busy signals, and anger at the controversial system grew.


The FBI, which runs the system, designed NICS to provide real-time background checks on
potential gun buyers. NICS, which can handle queries via computer or phone, will do away
with the five-day waiting period required by the Brady Act passed in 1993.


After the system’s first day on the job, traffic slowed a bit. The FBI had
estimated that 80 percent of all checks would be completed and a gun buy would get a green
light within 30 seconds. The first week, about 76 percent of the checks proceeded
immediately, Kessler said.


The FBI hosts NICS on a Silicon Graphics Inc. Challenge L server with eight 200-MHz
CPUs, 4G of RAM and 120G of RAID storage. The system, which runs SGI Irix, queries an
Oracle7 Release 7.3.3 database.


The bureau has set up a redundant NICS server to take over if the main server goes down
for any reason, FBI computer specialist Jim Gerst said.


NICS uses Tuxedo, a communications control application from BEA Systems Inc. of
Sunnyvale, Calif., to help process transactions, which require checks against three
databases of criminal information.


In addition to its own database—which was set up specifically under the Brady Act
and holds information on 1.5 million people, including known drug abusers, mental
incompetents, renounced citizens, those who have received dishonorable military discharges
and illegal immigrants—NICS mines two other FBI databases to run the checks.


One is the National Criminal Information Center database, which contains some 600,000
names of people wanted for crimes or who have restraining orders against them. The second
is the Interstate Identification Index, which contains roughly 39 million criminal history
records.


Data for the NICS database is provided by the departments of Defense, State and
Veterans Affairs, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.


Data for the other two databases comes from federal law enforcement agencies and local
police departments. The FBI receives about 25,000 criminal information updates daily,
Kessler said. 

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