Schumer, Kennedy Gunning for Ashcroft

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Two senators asked Thursday for all internal memoranda and documents related to Attorney General John Ashcroft's decision to purge gun purchase files after one day.

Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts plan to subpoena the documents if Ashcroft doesn't comply.

"We're going to use the resources necessary to get it," said Kennedy, a member of the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on administrative oversight and the courts, which has jurisdiction over the Justice Department. Schumer is the subcommittee chairman.

The senators sent letters to Ashcroft and Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard requesting all reports, memos and documents from the past three years that address the need for keeping the files beyond one day, the effects of destroying them within 24 hours or that otherwise relate to changing the time period for retaining the files.

The Justice Department had no immediate comment.

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System gun purchase files are kept temporarily so that the FBI can go back and look for fraudulent transactions or mistaken approvals. Current regulations specify that the files can be kept for 90 days.

Called NICS, the system electronically checks law enforcement records while gun buyers are waiting to make purchases. Felons, drug users, and people subject to domestic violence restraining orders are among those prohibited from buying guns.

But some records are missing or incomplete. Gun dealers are permitted to sell guns if no post-arrest record can be found within three days.

The senators said that Justice and FBI officials complained privately that purging the files after 24 hours would impede the bureau's ability to crack down on illegal drug trafficking.

The proposed time change is subject to public comment before it takes effect.

In announcing the proposal last month, Ashcroft said he was trying to balance privacy concerns with the need to maintain the records for auditing purposes -- both required by the landmark Brady gun law that requires background checks for gun buyers.

Ashcroft said audits can be done instantaneously using technology.