Would a New Gun Control Bill Create a National Registry?

Such claims are misleading.

In a viral tweet, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene claimed that H.R. 8—the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021—“would create a national gun registry” and that H.R. 1446—the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021—“would create a nationwide ‘waiting period’” after the purchase of a firearm. Both bills were recently passed by the House of Representatives.

H.R. 8 would amend Section 922 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code—dealing with the import, export, and sale of firearms—which currently allows firearms to be sold by private sellers without performing a background check on the buyer. H.R. 8 seeks to alter this section of the law to make it illegal for “any person who is not a licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, or licensed dealer to transfer a firearm to any other person who is not so licensed.” The bill includes language prohibiting the establishment of a gun registry. H.R. 8 includes a section detailing rules of interpretation, reading

“Nothing in this Act, or any amendment made by this Act, shall be construed to—

(1) authorize the establishment, directly or indirectly, of a national firearms registry; or

(2) interfere with the authority of a State, under section 927 of title 18, United States Code, to enact a law on the same subject matter as this Act.”

Greene’s communications director Nick Dyer told The Dispatch Fact Check: “How do you expect to enforce so-called ‘universal background checks’ at the federal level without a national registry?” Other critics of the legislation agree, with the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action saying in a statement that H.R. 8 “cannot be enforced without a federal gun registry.” Such critics argue that as the bill requires all gun transactions to be performed by an individual licensed by the federal government, the federal government is effectively given a record of every gun transaction, creating a de facto registry.

“HR 8 does not create a national gun registry,” Stephen Gutowski, firearms-policy reporter for the Washington Free Beacon, told The Dispatch Fact Check. “It does create a situation where, if everyone complies and every gun transfer other than those covered by the limited exceptions in the bill is processed through NICS [National Instant Criminal Background Check System], there would be records of who owns each firearm spread across every gun dealer in the country but federal law prevents them from being compiled into a database by the government.”

Background checks are performed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is run by the FBI. By making background checks universal, Greene and others are correct that the federal government would be notified of virtually all gun transactions—there are some minor exceptions such as a gift between spouses. But whether a registry is formed hinges on what the government does with those records. 

While firearm dealers are required to maintain records of transactions for at least 20 years—and to share those records with law enforcement when asked—the federal government must destroy “all identifying information submitted by or on behalf of the transferee” within 24 hours after the background check is delivered provided the transaction is approved. When a background check is failed, such records are kept for 10 years. In instances where a firearm dealer goes out of business, their records either go to a successor or to the attorney general. In this particular instance, the federal government does maintain some firearm transaction records longer than 24 hours, but in all other cases the government destroys identifying information regarding approved firearm transactions.

Greene’s claim about H.R. 1446 is closer to being accurate, though still misleading. Dyer told The Dispatch Fact Check “HR 1446 leaves Second Amendment rights in the hands of a federal bureaucracy. It’s a de facto national waiting period.” The bill does indeed create a new nationwide waiting period, but not for all gun purchases. H.R. 1446’s 10-day waiting period applies only to situations in which a background check is not able to immediately provide definitive information about an individual. The vast majority of gun transactions feature background checks that find results almost immediately. In 2019, 89.44 percent of background checks had immediate results. 

“Those affected by HR1446 could face a significant new burden to legally obtaining a firearm without the FBI even determining if they've done anything wrong,” said Gutowski. “But the bill would not impact everyone going through a NICS check or even a majority of them.”

Greene’s claims on H.R. 8 rely on a very loose definition of what a “registry” is while her claim regarding H.R. 1446 leaves out important context about the waiting period the bill would create. 

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