USA Today Misleads on FBI Gun Retrieval Requests

Retrieval requests came over period of a year, revealed in annual report released in May

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December 5, 2017

In a story that USA Today described as an "exclusive" piece of "breaking news," the publication misled readers about the timing of FBI gun retrieval requests.

Despite the breaking news and exclusive designations, the information revealed in the report was taken from a seven-month-old public document and does not indicate any new action from the FBI. Instead, the 2016 National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Operations Report, which the USA Today story is based on, indicates that over the course of the entire year the agency sent 4,170 requests to the ATF for firearms to be retrieved from those who failed a background check but only after the three-day delay period had expired. The same report summarizing the background check system's functioning has been released near the beginning of the following year since the system was implemented in 1998 when the FBI sent 3,849 firearms retrieval requests to the ATF.

Since 2012, the publicly available reports posted on the FBI's website show the number of firearms retrieval requests the FBI sent to the ATF have fluctuated between 2,500 and 4,000.

In 2012, the FBI made 3,722 requests. In 2013, they made 3,375 requests. In 2014, they made 2,511. In 2015, they made 2,892. In 2016, as USA Today reported, they made 4,170.

While 2016's total represents an increase over recent years, it does not represent a record. The FBI made 5,056 firearms retrieval requests to the ATF, the most ever, in 2000.

A firearms retrieval request is made after a delayed proceed gun sale. Under federal law, the FBI can delay a gun sale for up to three days if they haven't determined whether or not the purchaser is prohibited from owning firearms. After that three-day period, if the FBI has not made a determination, the sale is allowed to go through. The FBI does not, however, stop its background check into the buyer and in some cases determines the buyer is prohibited from owning firearms. Those are the cases where the FBI makes a firearms retrieval request to the ATF who then collects the firearm in question.

The number of firearms retrieval requests is an indication of how many times in a given year the FBI has taken more than three days to determine a purchaser was prohibited. Of the 27,538,673 background checks completed by the FBI in 2016, 4,170 cases ended with a retrieval request—or 0.015 percent of all checks.

The USA Today piece, titled "Exclusive: Feds issue 4,000 orders to seize guns from people who failed background checks," led the publication's website Monday afternoon and remained at the top of its "Top Stories" section into Monday night.

Published under: ATF , FBI , Gun Control , Guns