by Dan Lucas
During testimony before the Oregon Senate Judiciary Hearing on SB 1551 on Feb 6, 2014, the question of how long firearms background check records are kept came up. Tricia Whitfield, Director of the Oregon State Police Identification Services Section, testified that that they keep the information on approved transactions for 10 days. After 10 days the information is “purged.”
Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) asked a clarifying question “If a sale goes through with no problems, no flags, basically within 10 days those records are purged, meaning they are no longer in existence?” Tricia Whitfield responded “Sen. Prozanski, correct.”
Later in the hearing, Kevin Starrett, Director of the Oregon Firearms Federation, had an exchange with Sen. Prozanski. Here’s how that exchange was reported in USA Today “The bill’s author, Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a Democrat from Eugene, Ore., pushed back by reminding Starrett that Tricia Whitfield, who runs the state’s background check program, testified that information on approved sales are destroyed after 10 days. Starrett questioned whether that’s true, and Prozanski quipped, ‘I understand your conspiracist perspective.'”
As you’ll see shortly, it turns out that Kevin Starrett was right when he questioned whether it was true.
The “10 days” has gotten quite a bit of play. Sen. Prozanski wrote an op-ed for Blue Oregon, Penny Okamoto, the Executive Director of Ceasefire Oregon wrote about it in an op-ed for the Salem Statesman Journal, The Oregonian reported on it, The Newberg Graphic reported on it, USA Today covered it and it was reported on in the Eugene Register-Guard. Most articles focused on how long it is before the Oregon State Police destroy the records. The statement in Penny Okamoto’s article was broader “the records of gun buyers in Oregon who pass a background check are destroyed in just 10 days,” without limiting her statement to the Oregon State Police.
So is it 10 days? No.
As I noted in a previous article, after the background check, paper and/or electronic records then exist in three places for the background check:
- At the gun dealer (seller)
- At the Oregon State Police (FICS)
- At the FBI (NICS)
The records for approved firearms background checks from a gun dealer in Oregon must be kept for a minimum of 20 years, by federal law. If the dealer goes out of business before the 20 years, the records will go to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) – where they may be kept indefinitely. According to the ATF, they have “several hundred million such records.”
If you buy your firearm from a private individual at an Oregon gun show, state law requires that the seller keep your records for five years.
That’s just for the background check records kept by the seller. There are also the records at the Oregon State Police (FICS) and FBI (NICS). Records retention at the FBI isn’t very complicated – federal law requires that the NICS “must destroy all identifying information on allowed [approved] transactions prior to the start of the next NICS operational day.” Things get a little more complicated at the Oregon State Police.
Firearms background check records at the Oregon State Police (FICS)
OK, so at least at the Oregon State Police records for approved firearms background checks are only kept for 10 days, right? No, they’re actually kept for 90 days, and the only thing that’s keeping them from being kept for 5 years is a policy that could change any day.
When Tricia Whitfield testified, she was only thinking of one type of record at the Oregon State Police. She hadn’t considered backups of information. In follow up information requests, I learned that the backups are kept for 90 days.
Additionally, it is only an Oregon State Police policy that keeps the records from being kept the full 5 years allowed by Oregon law. A policy established in 2011 by the Superintendent of the Oregon State Police, and that the Superintendent can change any time they like. A policy is not like a state law that requires approval of the Legislature and Governor to change.
Here are the materials from my follow up information requests with the Oregon State Police:
- My original email to OSP on Feb 12, 2014
- OSP Firearms Background Check Program – Statistics from 2012-2013 (notes from the recorded 2/6/2014 testimony – validated by the OSP)
- OSP Firearms Background Check Program – Records Retention Questions
- Gun Owners for Responsible Ownership_OSP background check data (OSP response: “OSP has not provided information to ‘Gun Owners for Responsible Ownership.’ You will need to contact the site administrator to verify where they received their information.”) Gun Owners for Responsible Ownership is an anti-gun organization using that name to sound like something they’re not.
- Answers from Oregon State Police
UPDATE (12/17/2015): OSP has changed its firearm background check retention policy
To read more from Dan, visit www.dan-lucas.com