State Says It Won't Be Able To Run Background Checks For Gun Sales

Dec 27, 2018

After Vermont passed historic gun legislation this year, lawmakers wanted to know if the state could play a role in performing background checks.

But a new report from the Department of Public Safety finds that because only licensed dealers can access the federal database system, the state will not be able to offer an alternative to running the background checks through gun shops.

Under federal and state laws anyone who buys a gun from a federally licensed dealer is required to have a background check.

But if a gun is sold just between two people, then the background check is supposed to happen before the sale, also through a dealer.

Public Safety Deputy Commissioner Christopher Herrick said lawmakers wanted to know if the state could set up a new system to give people one more option.

“In multiple phone calls with the FBI, and reviewing federal law and regulation, it became clear that we would not be authorized to have access to the full range of databases that are performed on a normal background check for a gun purchase,” Herrick said.

"Any background check that Vermont police agencies would be doing would be thin and incomplete and would potentially put the public at risk." - Christopher Herrick, Public Safety Deputy Commissioner

The National Instant Background Check System is managed by the FBI, and it runs the background checks across all state criminal records, as well as through military records and mental health adjudications.

The gun shops can’t access the system either, Herrick said, but instead the dealers put in requests to the FBI.

And under existing federal law only licensed dealers can ask the FBI to run the checks.

Herrick says if the state only relied on Vermont data, then people from out of state might be able to skirt the system.

“Any background check that Vermont police agencies would be doing would be thin and incomplete and would potentially put the public at risk,” he said.

According to the new Department of Public Safety report “the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will be performing outreach to federally licensed firearm dealers in Vermont to help them understand the important role they can serve with respect to the integrity of gun sales in Vermont.”