The crush of holiday shopping and the opening of winter hunting season could find gun buyers across the nation facing new obstacles today, the first day of a new national system of instant background checks.
The system, operated by the FBI and state governments, replaces the voluntary checks on handgun buyers conducted by state and local authorities that have been in place since 1993.
The Justice Department had long planned to have the system running today, the date set by the 1993 Brady Act, which established federal background checks for handgun purchases. But authorities said they expect some difficulties as they break in a new routine.
Under the new system, the number of checks performed will double because a new law requires background approvals not just for handgun buyers but also for those who buy long guns and shotguns.
About 12.4 million firearms are sold each year in the U.S. All will be covered now, plus 2.5 million other annual transactions: the redemption of pawned guns.
Problems also are expected because December is the busiest month of the year for gun sales: Hunting seasons coincide with Christmas buying.
To prepare for its share of the work, the FBI is training 513 new employees, has set up two telephone centers and has sent teams to brief the nation's 106,000 gun dealers and pawnbrokers.
Federal law bans gun purchases by people convicted or indicted on felony charges, fugitives, the mentally ill, those with dishonorable military discharges, those who have renounced U.S. citizenship, illegal immigrants, illegal drug users and those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors or who are under domestic violence restraining orders. State laws add other categories.
California, one of 26 states that have their own laws on handgun purchases, will not be affected because the federal law does not supersede stricter state systems.