Tuesday, April 03, 2012

OSP to Firearms Purchasers: "DON'T CALL US"

The Oregon Firearms Federation (OFF) has an interesting editorial at DON'T CALL US, which describes a contretemps between Oregon firearms purchasers (and retail dealers) and the Oregon State Police.

I've bought a few firearms in Oregon over the years (don't ask how many) and some of them were from retails dealers in their brick-and-mortar stores. Other firearms were purchased from Dealer Tables at Gun Shows. All of my purchases were "approved" within five minutes through a contact from the dealer to what I assumed to be a direct connection through the FBI to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System ( NICS ).

Apparently, my ignorance is without bounds. According to the referenced "Don't Call Us" article, those background checks were actually conducted via the Oregon State Police (OSP) office of Firearms Instant Check System (FICS). To me, it makes sense that the volume of traffic would be smaller going through a State system (FICS) than a Federal system (NICS) ... so the response time would be faster. That translates to quicker clearance of a retail sale; good for everyone involved in the transaction. Until, of course, the state computer goes toes-up for a few hours during a major Gun show in ... say ... Albany, Oregon.


According to the same OFF article, there is an ongoing history of "missed communications" between the OSP and OFF.

Here's what the OFF folks have to say about it, in their March 19, 2012 article:
Don't Call Us, We Won't Call You

As far too many of you know, the Oregon State Police ID Unit was shut down for most of Sunday, crippling multiple gun shows, halting countless sales and costing dealers, buyers and gun show hosts untold thousands of dollars. If you ever wondered why we oppose background checks, this should tell you. All OSP has to do is throw a switch or blow a fuse and gun sales end. Both their phone lines and their new "computer system" were unavailable. But there is a bigger, more constant problem we need to address.

Several years ago OFF was receiving so many complaints about the awful treatment people were receiving from the State Police ID Unit when they attempted to make firearms purchases that we arranged a meeting with them.

At the time both dealers and buyers were frequently lied to about the process, and attempts to contact OSP for an explanation of a delay or denial were routinely ignored.

During our first meeting, OSP gave us a copy of a manual they said they provided to gun dealers that explained "the rules." On the very second page we noted information that was false and against state and Federal law.

During that meeting we were promised that service would improve, the error in the manual would be fixed and staff would be retrained so they would no longer dispense false information to dealers and buyers. For a long time things did seem to improve. The complaints we got dropped off to almost zero. Calls to the challenge line were, as promised, being returned promptly. We have never approved of background checks, but it did seem like an effort was being made to do a better job. Still we believed that because of several factors, including a $10.00 fee and the fact that OSP was databasing info on the gun being purchased, and thereby creating a gun registry, that this job was better done by NICS directly. In 2011 we introduced a bill to do just that. It passed out of House Judiciary only to die in Ways and Means when the Public Employee Unions came out to testify that the Oregon economy would collapse if OSP was not doing gun purchase background checks.

Now it seems we are back to the bad old days. The number of complaints we receive about unjust delays has once again started climbing, but what's worse is the new attitude of the OSP ID Unit.

Where once if you received a delay or "pend" you were promised a response in 24 hours, now OSP is telling people not to bother them and not to expect a call back. Their "challenge line" has an outgoing message saying you will be delayed at least a month and don't even bother to leave a message before a month has gone by since they will NOT call you back. This is an astonishing response from a State agency. "We are going to deny your rights and you'd better not ask us about it."

The attitude of the OSP ID Unit is outrageous and unacceptable. The outgoing message tells people that their "standard delay" is 35 days. But that does not mean you will even get a response then. They can extend their delay forever.

Clearly, a right delayed is a right denied.

Think of the person who has a reasonable fear for their safety. The State Police tell them "tough, it's your problem." and then to add insult to injury tell that person, "don't bother us with questions."

It is important to note that with or without the OSP's approval you are entitled to the gun after three business days as long as there has not be an outright denial. As you would expect, there is nothing in their message that informs callers of this and it is the policy of the OSP not to inform buyers or dealers of this fact. NICS, on the other hand, informs buyers of their rights.

The State Police ID Unit has turned itself into a dictatorial gun control agency that routinely denies people their rights and then demands that it not be questioned about it. This has to stop.

First, call the challenge line to listen to the arrogant and outrageous outgoing message if you press 1 for a "delay". That number is 503-373-1808.

Then call Patricia Whitfield and demand to know why her agency is treating taxpaying Oregonians like an unwanted nuisance when they
are denied their rights by her agency.
(For contact information and a suggested comment block, see the link at the top of the page)

Searching the OSP site, I found this 03/20/12 news release which explains the outage:

Information Related to Sunday's Interruption to Firearms Instant Check System background Checks
This was updated March 28, 2012.

On Sunday, March 18, 2012 at approximately 9:44 a.m. the Century Link telephone company experienced a network card failure. At the time, Oregon State Police (OSP) did not know what caused the interruption in service that lasted 3 hours and 32 minutes. This equipment failure rendered the OSP Identification Services Section unable to conduct business functions, including: Firearms Instant Check System (FICS) background checks on persons attempting to purchase firearms, applicant background checks for employment and licensing, as well as criminal arrest identifications and record updates from law enforcement and criminal justice agencies.

In the days following this unexpected technical problem, some questioned the commitment of the FICS unit to complete background checks in a timely manner. OSP is sensitive to how our services affect those who rely on the FICS unit to complete factual research and an informed decision to determine if a purchaser is qualified to lawfully receive and possess a firearm under both state and federal law.

The OSP website goes on to state:

The FICS unit is required by Oregon law to provide the licensed dealer with an estimated time of when the background research request can be completed. The amount of time varies, but in a best case scenario for “Pended” matters the research may be completed within 3 days. Some situations are more complicated and can extend the final determination to a month or more. In each case, the FICS unit is required to contact the dealer upon completion of the research to provide a final qualifying determination.
I couldn't find any statement in this website which acknowledges the OFF assertion that if a purchase is not denied within5 days, the purchase would be automatically approved by NICS.

Here's the text from the final version of the Brady Bill:
it shall be unlawful for any licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, or licensed dealer to sell, deliver, or transfer a handgun to an individual who is not licensed under section 923, unless---
(ii)(I) 5 business days (meaning days on which State offices are open) have elapsed from the date the transferor furnished notice of the contents of the statement to the chief law enforcement officer, during which period the transferor has not received information from the chief law enforcement officer that receipt or possession of the handgun by the transferee would be in violation of Federal, State, or local law;

Make of this what you will.

I also couldn't get OFF's "OUTGOING MESSAGE" link to work, either. I don't know whether this demonstrates OFF's inability to maintain a technology which may be beyond their ability to maintain 100% reliability of service, or their arrogant unwillingness to provide ALL the information needed for ALL their users to be completely satisfied by their services.

This whole brouhaha may merely exemplify the frustration we all feel when required to be all things to all people while dealing with SFC's (Stupid F**king Computers).

But, it's better to know than not to know. Isn't it?

PS: For the record, I think that the NICS approach is the best possible compromise available, until someone comes up with a better idea. Thank God and Browning that we no longer have to fight the original Brady Bill and the egregious "Waiting Period". What a cock-up THAT was!

And that's all I have to say about that.