Can Lie Detectors be the Silver Bullet for Gun Background Checks and Conceal Carry Permits?

The gun store clerk says, “So you’d like to purchase a handgun? Have a seat and let’s have you answer a few questions on our computer. When you’re finished, we’ll get a report that’ll show whether you’ve been honest on this background check.”

Sound too futuristic? Lie detection technology has advanced to the point that it can detect lies by tracking involuntary eye behavior.

It’s no secret gun background checks and conceal carry permits are hot topics. One side says expanded background checks infringes on Second Amendment rights, while the other side says it helps keep firearms from those who intend to use them to do harm.

Regardless of the side you support, it may be helpful to upgrade the safeguards currently in place to keep firearms out of the wrong

The NICS

Currently, background checks are done using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). NICS is located at the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division in West Virginia. It was launched in 1998 by the FBI and is used by Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to quickly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms.

For a background check, a prospective gun buyer must show I.D., complete and sign a form (Firearms Transaction Record), and then, before the sale is finalized, the FFL contacts the NICS to ensure the person doesn’t have a criminal record or isn’t otherwise ineligible to purchase a firearm. A determination is typically made in a matter of minutes. (Source)

Since NICS was launched nearly 18 years ago, more than 241 million background checks have been made. Of those, more than 1.3 million denials, or less than one percent, were issued. (Source)

Most gun background checks are conducted in minutes, but the FBI has up to three business days to make a determination. After that, the transfer may legally proceed anyway.

Imperfect System

But the system is not perfect. If a prospective gun buyer’s name is similar to a known criminal, the request may be denied. Or, if the information found in the state or federal criminal records database is inaccurate, then a firearm may be sold to an individual by mistake — which can potentially lead to deadly consequences.

That’s what happened in the case of Dylann Roof, who is accused of killing nine people on June 17 at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. According to FBI Director James B. Comey, Roof was allowed to purchase the gun used in the attack only because of a lapse in the FBI’s background-check system.

Five months earlier, Roof was arrested for possession of narcotics. That charge alone did not disqualify him for the gun purchase. But later, Roof admitted to the drug crime. That admission normally would have triggered an automatic rejection of a gun purchase. Unfortunately, that information wasn’t accurately recorded in the criminal/background-record databases.

As a result, the FBI examiner assigned to review Roof’s purchase never saw his admission to the narcotics charge and Roof was approved to purchase a.45-caliber weapon.

“This case rips all of our hearts out,” Comey said. “But the thought that an error on our part is connected to this guy’s purchase of a gun that he used to slaughter these good people is very painful to us.” (Source)

An Alternative, High-Tech Background Check

Mistakes like the one made with Mr. Roof may spur the government to look at alternative methods of conducting background checks on gun buyers — like a new high-tech eye-tracking test invented by scientists from the University of Utah. The 30-minute test provides a “truthful” or “deceptive” score in less than five minutes.

In addition to depending on proper buyer identification or the information found in (or not in) governmental databases, a lie detection test like this relies solely on the database inside one’s head.

In 2012, a significant study proved that lying causes subtle changes in the behavior of the human eye because it induces a change in cognitive load. (Source) Fortunately, those changes are subconscious and cannot be masked by examinees under most circumstances.

Some test questions could include:

  • The ID that I provided is fake.
  • I am not a convicted felon.
  • I am not a fugitive from justice.
  • I have not been convicted for domestic violence.
  • I am not addicted to a controlled substance.

New technology that bypasses potential human error might be a tool that can increase the effectiveness of background screening and help keep communities safer.

Note: This article and the opinions expressed here are from Russ Warner, VP of Marketing at Converus, makers of EyeDetect, an innovative, new lie detection solution.

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