Less than a year after a gun scare in Colorado, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice has announced it will investigate whether the feds are properly monitoring state background checks on firearm purchases.
The investigation will mark the culmination of efforts by Colorado's congressional delegation to figure out how Sol Pais, a Columbine-obsessed eighteen-year-old from Florida, was able to purchase a shotgun here in April 2019, around the twentieth anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. News of Pais supposedly roaming the Front Range with the gun led to school closures and a massive law enforcement hunt.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz revealed his plans to launch the investigation into the FBI's monitoring of state background-check procedures in a January 8 letter he sent five members of Congress from Colorado.
Congressman Joe Neguse, who spearheaded the effort last summer to get the Inspector General to investigate, says he's "heartened" by Horowitz's "acknowledgement of these issues."
"We must ensure that our state’s background checks are as effective as they can be and that the proper steps are taken to prevent this from happening again," the Boulder Democrat says in a statement.
In July 2019, five Colorado members of Congress, four of whom are Democrats, plus Republican Scott Tipton, asked Horowitz to look into the efficacy of state background checks for firearm purchases.
The lawmakers were concerned about how Pais was able to purchase a shotgun here, even though she hadn't reached the minimum purchasing age requirement of 21 in her home state. Federal law requires that firearm sales at gun stores comply with laws of the state in which they're located in addition to the laws of the home state of the purchaser. The gun shop that sold Pais the shotgun stated that she had passed a background check.
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Only about a dozen states, including Colorado, run background checks on all firearm sales, and eight others run them only on handgun sales. Other states rely on the FBI to run background checks on firearm sales, according to the Giffords Law Center.
In their July 2019 letter, the congressional delegation cited a 2018 Government Accountability Office report which found that of the 8.6 million FBI background checks in 2017, there were approximately 112,000 denials. For the 17 million state background checks that year, there were only about 69,000 denials.
"While there are a variety of potential explanations for the discrepancy, the difference between the two denial rates raises the possibility [that states doing their own background checks] are incorrectly approving a significant number of transfers, as appears to have been the case with the Florida woman in Colorado," the members of Congress wrote in July 2019.
Horowitz didn't offer a specific timetable for the investigation, but noted in his letter that he'd update the legislators when his office is ready to launch it.