DePasquale launches audit of State Police’s instant background check system for gun purchases

    A Colt handgun (Flickr Creative Commons photo)

    As Philadelphia grapples with escalating gun violence, the state’s fiscal watchdog says he’s wants to make sure the system to keep weapons out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them is working the way it’s intended to work.

    Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Wednesday his audit of the Pennsylvania State Police’s Instant Check System for gun buyers will “make sure it’s working as intended and keeps up with changing technology. The key is to make sure there are no gaps in the system that could result in a tragic loss of life.”

    The system, first launched in 1998, provides quick access to background records to determine if someone is eligible to buy a weapon or is eligible to carry one. The State Police conducted more than 266,000 such checks during the first quarter of 2019. Of those, 3,260 people were denied a weapon based on those checks, DePasquale’s office said in a statement.

    According to DePasquale’s office, the audit will:

    • “Examine whether State Police promptly, accurately and consistently issued decisions and processed challenges to denials in accordance with federal and state laws;
    • “Investigate whether all state and out-of-state criminal, civil, mental health, and other necessary records are incorporated into the PICS and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System; and
    • “Evaluate the process used to identify and address firearm owners who have lost the right to own a firearm and whether PSP’s role in this process is operating effectively.”

    DePasquale said Wednesday that the State Police had been told that his office was undertaking the audit and that he was optimistic that Pennsylvania’s largest law enforcement agency would cooperate in the probe. DePasquale said the audit — which will examine the last three years of gun checks, but could be expanded — will be finished by year’s end.

    DePasquale acknowledged — and lamented — the weekend violence in Philadelphia in which more people were shot in 48 hours than at any similar point in the last three years. But, he added, the timing of his announcement was coincidental. The audit had been undertaken at the request of a bipartisan group of state legislators.

    According to the State Police, about 60 percent of those who go through the background check system “are approved within minutes.” Those who are denied by the system have 30 days under current law to appeal that decision and to show why they should be allowed to purchase a firearm or obtain a license.

    John L. Micek
    John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. He's been covering Pennsylvania politics for more than 20 years and most recently served as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Micek's commentary is syndicated to more than 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. And he's a regular contributor to a host of broadcast outlets in Pennsylvania and abroad.

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