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Are thousands of felons buying guns?

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WASHINGTON — Since mid-1999, about 10,000 felons and others legally barred from buying guns were able to cruise past background checks and purchase firearms, an advocacy group said Wednesday.

A report by the Americans for Gun Safety Foundation said most states rely on outdated records and computer technology for background checks, which allows thousands of felons to purchase guns with little trouble.

"The dirty little secret is that the records for almost every state are in terrible shape, and our front-line defense necessary to keep guns out of the hands of criminals is full of holes," said Jim Kessler, director of the Washington-based foundation, which calls itself a nonpartisan group that supports better gun laws and better enforcement of existing laws.

Background checks to see whether prospective gun buyers have criminal records have been required since February 1994 under the Brady Act.

Each state compiles felony conviction, mental disability and domestic violence records for use by the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

But the report says 9,976 prohibited buyers throughout the nation obtained a gun because of faulty records over the past 30 months. Since records in many states haven't been entered into a database, finding them can take several days, the report said.

The National Rifle Association, which has opposed the group's positions in the past, did not return several phone calls for comment.

Under federal law, if a state or federal government cannot complete a background check in three days, gun dealers must sell a firearm to the customer.

Among the report's other key findings:

25 states have automated fewer than 60 percent of their felony conviction records.

33 states do not automate any records of those who have been involuntarily institutionalized in mental-health facilities.

Several states have not automated any records of domestic violence restraining orders or misdemeanors.

The report was based on an analysis of federal and state records.

The background check system can determine if a potential gun buyer has a criminal history, but there is no safeguard to verify whether the name or identification being used by the buyer is valid, the General Accounting Office investigation has found.

The group suggests that states should institute a "don't know/don't sell" policy to extend the period to complete a background check to reflect the actual time it takes for law enforcement to ensure illegal buyers don't purchase guns.

Gun-rights groups have fought such a measure, arguing it could keep law-abiding citizens from purchasing guns in a timely fashion.

On the Net: Americans for Gun Safety Foundation: www.agsfoundation.com