"Not a week goes by without me hearing complaints from folks about the PICS system being down. If [a buyer] has to wait 40 or 50 minutes because the check can't be done, those sales are lost, because the buyer goes across the [state] border" to buy a gun, Krieger said.
But firearm foes say that the state database includes records that the federal database doesn't, such as protection-from-abuse orders and 580,000 mental-health records that would prohibit gun ownership. They say that a mere federal check could allow violent or mentally ill people to buy guns, opening the door to such calamities as the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings or the 2011 attempt to kill former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Krieger said that 31 states already use NICS exclusively. "When we can get better service at a very substantial cost savings, why not do it?" he said. Krieger couldn't quantify the savings he expected.
PICS proponents contend that Krieger, an NRA member and Navy veteran who likes to hunt, simply opposes all gun restrictions.
Krieger countered that plans are under way for the state to submit mental-health records to NICS by June.
Major Martin Henry, who oversees PICS as director of the Pennsylvania State Police's Bureau of Records and Identification, said that PICS represents but a sliver of the state police budget - less than a tenth of 1 percent.
He opposes abolishing PICS, and argued that the state should more stringently screen would-be buyers who challenge their denial after failing the records check.
Under PICS, authorities have 60 days to research the person to determine whether to uphold or reverse the denial. NICS, though, gives authorities just three days; if authorities don't act within that period, the gun dealer can proceed with the sale. Henry said that such checks typically take state police 15 days to complete.
Further, PICS isn't as inefficient as Krieger claims, Henry said. The state database was operational for 510,000 hours last year, yet experienced problems for just 69.9 hours, or 1.4 percent of the time, Henry said. He said that his bureau plans to add new technology that should erase such outages.
PICS handled 739,682 calls last year, the most since its July 1998 inception, Henry said.
The system, used primarily by gun dealers before making a sale, also is used to check the records of gun owners who apply for concealed-carry permits or those who seek to regain firearms that authorities had seized in criminal cases, Henry said.
One gun dealer said he supports stringent background checks.
"Even though I own firearms and I support the Second Amendment, I want a thorough background check," said Kevin Hudgeons, manager of the Delaware Valley Sports Center in the Far Northeast. "If you have nothing to hide, why not have a thorough background check done? And if you do, then maybe you shouldn't own a firearm."
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