Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) wants the Department of Justice to keep personal data on law-abiding gun buyers from the National Instant Check System (NICS), and to offer the information for unlimited use by state and local agencies.
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre called the move "gun owner registration, plain and simple."
Making good on a promise he made during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing December 6, Schumer introduced the "Use NICS in Terrorist Investigations Act" (S. 1788) after Attorney General John Ashcroft refused to allow the FBI access to NICS records of lawful gun purchases.
Schumer introduced the bill one day after Ashcroft explained that he was merely obeying the law Congress had passed.
"The law which provided for the development of the NICS, the National Instant Check System, indicates that the only permissible use for the National Instant Check System is to audit the maintenance of that system," Ashcroft responded. "The Department of Justice is committed to following the law."
Ashcroft also reminded the senators that NICS records from any illegal attempt to purchase a weapon, whether by a convicted felon, a terrorist, an illegal alien, or a person with a history of mental illness, are maintained indefinitely, and completely available to police.
But Schumer, along with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and five other co-sponsors, dismissed Ashcroft's explanation and offered the "Use NICS in Terrorist Investigations Act" in response.
Despite the bill's title, the language of the proposal makes no reference to terrorist investigations, and no limits are placed on the use of the information.
The proposal would "allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation to access NICS audit log records for the purpose of responding to an inquiry from any federal, state, or local law enforcement agency in connection with a civil or criminal law enforcement investigation."
It would require DOJ to maintain the records of lawful gun purchases "in no event fewer than 90 days after the date on which the licensee first contacts the system with respect to the transfer." Present federal law and Department policy require the records to be destroyed within 24 hours of a purchaser's approval.
The National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) had harsh words for Schumer and the co-sponsors of S. 1788.
"Anti-gun extremists have been attempting for weeks to invoke the specter of terrorists acquiring firearms as justification for their attempts to end traditional American gun shows," the organization said in a December 14 fax alert, "and now they are doing the same to promote their attempts to create the mechanism to establish a registry of law-abiding gun purchasers."
LaPierre explained further.
"Clearly, this will be the basis of a national firearms-owner computer registry that would profile decent honest citizens, violate their privacy, and provide a locator to assist Kennedy's and Schumer's vision of ultimately banning private ownership of firearms," he said. "Of more immediate danger are the civil data-sharing provisions in this legislation.
"You have to think about what a Janet Reno or any future anti-gun-rights attorney general would do with this power," he added.
While the legislation mandates that the FBI and the Treasury Department destroy any records they maintain for auditing NICS sometime after 90 days, no such restriction applies to information shared with state or local law enforcement agencies.
"Once the personal information is out of the hands of the feds, it could become part of a permanent record elsewhere," the NRA warned.
NRA-ILA Executive Director James Jay Baker says it's vital that Americans understand the need to protect the NICS data.
"This is not about denying law enforcement any records that bear on criminals or terrorists and guns," he said. "This is about preserving the privacy rights of decent, innocent people."
Calls to the offices of Senators Kennedy and Schumer were not returned prior to publication of this story.