Originally created 01/25/02

Group sees holes in gun checks



Robert Beasley Jr. bought a 9 mm rifle from an Augusta gun and pawn shop in December, and says he wasn't held up by Georgia's background check.

"Mine was instant," the Augusta man said. "It didn't bother me, because that's the law."

In Richmond County, 6,955 gun buyers, or 96 percent, were approved to buy guns in 2000, according to Georgia Bureau of Investigation figures. Only 286 people, or 4 percent, were not.

But despite annual improvements in the state's system, a national gun control group, the Americans for Gun Safety Foundation, criticized Georgia this week. The group gave the state a C- for alleged deficiencies in its automated system.

State and local officials have fired back, saying Georgia has made vast improvements and has not allowed anyone to slip through the cracks.

"That's nonsense. I'd give it an A. I'd give them an F," said John Bankhead, the spokesman for the GBI, which manages the state's background checks. "Georgia has one of the most effective programs in the country."

But the gun control group says Georgia keeps a registry of domestic violence restraining orders, but not all domestic violence orders make it to the state's database.

"There are still holes in the data that allow people to slip through undetected," foundation study director Jim Kessler said.

State officials said Georgia's fail-safe guarantee is a policy that can indefinitely extend the federally mandated three-day waiting period when an initial criminal history check raises questions.

Another potential loophole will be plugged when a statewide database of domestic violence records is added within the next year, Mr. Bankhead said. The state is also working to improve reporting from the court system so the outcome of arrests can be added to the system more quickly.

A local gun dealer says the state's checks have a few quirks but have been effective.

"I think they're doing a good job," said Lonnie Robinson, the manager of Crackshot III, a gun and pawn shop on Gordon Highway. "I've read studies that say the checks have little effect. I'm sure it's helping."

There have been some mix-ups with names that have delayed some sales, but Mr. Robinson said GBI officials have always corrected the problem.

Georgia's system also has been effective in catching those who are not supposed to buy guns but lie on their application, Richmond County Sheriff's Sgt. Tony Walden said. Once the GBI realizes someone falsified an application, officials forward the application to Sgt. Walden.

"I can't say that any system is perfect," he said. "But we do as much, if not more, than any other place."

The state's background checks, mandated under Georgia law and the federal Brady Act, ensure that people prohibited by either state or federal laws are barred from purchasing firearms from licensed firearms dealers.

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.