FBI expands background checks on tribal land

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) is expanding background checks for firearm sales on sovereign Indian reservations as part of the Obama administration’s push to reduce gun violence around the country.

Under new regulations, tribal law enforcement agencies will be allowed, though not required, to access the FBI’s criminal background check system before issuing gun licenses on reservations.

The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, created by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, gives law enforcement agencies information about criminals who are prohibited from owning guns. But previously tribal police didn’t have access to this database.

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"Tribal governments are responsible for law enforcement and the maintenance of good order within their Indian country,” the FBI writes in a notice to be published in Thursday’s edition of the Federal Register. "Some tribes have for years issued firearm permits authorizing persons in their territories to possess and to carry concealed firearms. If a tribe chooses to access (the criminal background check system) pursuant to this rule, it will improve that tribe’s ability to prevent and reduce illegal gun possession in its jurisdiction.”

While the FBI is granting tribal law enforcement agencies access to the database, they will not be required to run background checks on American Indians who are looking to buy guns.

"This rule does not, in any way, preempt tribal law,” the FBI wrote. “Access is wholly discretionary on the part of the tribes. This rule does not in any way mandate tribal government action.”

The FBI estimates it takes about two to three minutes to conduct a background check.

The FBI originally proposed giving tribal law enforcement agencies access to the criminal background check system in January 2013.

The changes will go into effect in 60 days, after the final rule is published Thursday.