GAO Finds Few Prosecutions of Those Denied Firearms Purchases

A new report requested by Congress indicates about 112,000 transactions were denied in FY2017, and ATF referred about 12,700 of those cases to its field divisions for further investigation. But U.S. attorney's offices had prosecuted just 12 of those cases as of June 2018.

Falsifying information on a firearms form, such as not disclosing a felony conviction, can result in a fine or imprisonment, or both. But a new U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that was requested by Congress indicates only a small percentage of the people who do this are prosecuted.

It says 112,090 firearms purchase transactions were denied on the basis of federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) checks in FY2017, and ATF referred 12,710 of those cases to its field divisions for further investigation. But U.S. attorney's offices had prosecuted just 12 of those cases as of June 2018, according to the report.

The 112,090 denied cases were about 1.3 percent of the 8,606,286 federal NICS transactions during FY2017.

At the state level, GAO reported that officials from 10 of 13 selected states said they did not investigate or prosecute firearms denials. The other three states investigated a high proportion of denials, with one of those three states reporting about 1,900 referrals for prosecution in 2017 and about 470 convictions.

GAO recommended in the report that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) assess the extent to which its field divisions use warning notifications as an enforcement tool, and the report says the U.S. Department of Justice concurred with the recommendation.

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