Federal Web site to check gun sales

Sunday, September 24th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON – President Clinton, acting to curb illegal gun sales, said Saturday that the government was turning to the Internet to make it harder to acquire weapons via computer or mail by using fake firearms licenses.

"Unfortunately, the Internet, despite all its benefits, is making it easier for guns to fall into the wrong hands. There are now 4,000 firearm sales-related sites on the Internet, and there are 80 sites where you can actually buy a gun at an auction," Mr. Clinton said in his weekly radio address.

"Clearly, we must do more to ensure that every sale over the Internet is legal and that no one uses the anonymity of cyberspace to evade our nation's gun laws."

The government has set up a Web site, known as eZ Check, for online federal firearms license authentication.

Under current law, licensed dealers can ship firearms only to other licensed dealers. Sellers are required to obtain a certified copy of the federal firearms license of the individual buying the guns. Criminals, however, have gotten around this requirement by using forged licenses.

The Web site, created by the Treasury Department and its Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, will allow licensed gun dealers to quickly verify the validity of licenses presented for purchase or shipment of guns.

Over the last several years, ATF has documented a sizable illegal market in guns fed by corrupt federally licensed dealers, straw purchasers and unlicensed gun sellers, Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat said.

Licensees are now required to obtain copies of licenses from purchasers before making shipments but do not have to ensure the licenses are valid.

The new rule, which will take effect next year after public comment, will require licensed dealers to verify the licenses through eZ Check and to report people attempting to obtain guns with invalid licenses, the White House said.

On Capitol Hill, the fourth-ranking House Republican said the plan "sounds like a step in the right direction." Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Republican Conference, added, "It's important for the federal government to prosecute criminals while protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners."

William Powers, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association, said his group supports eZ Check, as long as it works the way the government says it will.