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Gazette Premium Content Colorado releases new data on background checks

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The Associated Press Updated: March 1, 2014 at 3:20 pm

DENVER — The Colorado Bureau of Investigation has released new data showing little change in the number of background checks for private firearm transactions before and after a law expanding the checks took effect July 1.

The data released late Friday show there were 3,838 background checks on private transactions that didn't take place at gun shows from July through December 2013, after the new law started requiring background checks for sales between private parties within the state.

However, the data CBI released show that during the same six-month period in 2012 — before the new law — there were 3,854 checks labeled as non-gun-show private transactions.

A CBI spokeswoman did not immediately make clear what were considered private transactions before the law's expansion, but those earlier checks could be from gun sales in which the seller was out of state. Federal law requires background checks on gun sales that cross state lines, which go through a licensed dealer in the buyer's state.

CBI would not answer a request to see which dealers conducted the background checks, saying the information is not subject to public inspection.

Colorado's universal background check law was passed by Democrats without Republican support in response to the 2012 mass shootings at a suburban Denver movie theater and Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School.

But the data on private firearm transfers fail to paint a conclusive picture of the new law's effect because transactions between private parties at gun shows have long required background checks under Colorado law, and it's not known whether total gun sales went up or down during the time encompassed by the data.

The data, released by CBI after business hours Friday, was in response to a records request from The Associated Press and other media outlets.

Before the law went into effect, CBI only published monthly figures showing the total number of background checks it processed. After July 1, it started including a breakout of what were labeled private transactions, but that figure included sales both at gun shows and not at gun shows.

"This is information we have not been required to track," CBI officials said in a letter releasing the records, referring to the breakdown between gun show sales versus non-gun-show sales, as well as private transactions before the new law.

CBI officials went on to say in the letter that the agency "does not comment on the statistics" and that "this is a one-time run of these statistics."

A breakdown of the data shows:

— From when universal background checks took effect in July, through December 2013, there were 3,838 non-gun-show private background checks, and 2,361 private background checks at gun shows, bringing the total to 6,199.

— In the six months before the new law took effect, from January through June 2013, there were 3,933 non-gun show private background checks and 5,027 private background checks at gun shows, for a total of 8,960.

— From July through December 2012, there were 3,854 non-gun-show private background checks, and 4,272 private background checks at gun shows, for a total of 8,126.

Republicans asked CBI Director Ron Sloan at a Feb. 3 legislative hearing to start differentiating the statistics on private background checks. Sloan agreed to look into it.

Republican Sen. Ted Harvey argued that the agency numbers on private-sale background checks are a misleading indication of the law's effect.

"I don't think they really understand what last year's legislation did," Harvey said of the law's supporters.

Democrats and the CBI have insisted the new background check law is working and protecting public safety.

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