QUESTION: I keep reading stories about federal background checks to purchase guns. How does that work?

ANSWER: This can vary some from state to state.

People who operate businesses that sell guns must have a federal firearms license. When a person wants to purchase a gun from that business, the prospective buyer fills out a form provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The licensee then contacts what’s known as the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is operated by the FBI. Information from the ATF form can be relayed electronically or by phone.

“The NICS staff performs a background check on the buyer. That background check verifies the buyer does not have a criminal record or isn’t otherwise ineligible to purchase or own a firearm,” information on the FBI’s NICS website says. “Since launching in 1998, more than 300 million checks have been done, leading to more than 1.5 million denials.”

The FBI told me the NICS uses three national databases to conduct a background check on a potential gun purchaser.

“These databases are: (1) the National Crime Information Center, containing records on wanted persons, protection orders, and other persons identified as relevant to the NICS searches; (2) the Interstate Identification Index (III), which contains criminal history records; and (3) the NICS Indices, which contain information on prohibited persons as defined in Title 18, United States Code (U.S.C.), § 922 (g) or (n) (a federal law that defines the type of people who can’t purchase firearms). The NICS also performs a check of the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement databases if the prospective purchaser is a non-U.S. Citizen.”

Something to note about this system — it’s not available to “private citizens,” people like you and I who are not federal firearms licensees.

“However, a state may pass legislation requiring private sellers to facilitate the transfer of a firearm to a private transferee through a Federal Firearm Licensees (FFL),” information from the FBI said.

Texas has not passed such a requirement.

I should note, though, that doesn’t mean that private individuals can sell guns to anyone they want. State law prevents sales to someone if the seller knows that person plans to commit a crime; if that person is younger than 18 and doesn’t have parental permission; if the person is drunk; or if that person has an active protective order against them and the seller is aware of the protective order, for instance.

Q: The old Teague Cemetery on the edge of Teague Park is overgrown. Who is responsible for maintaining the cemetery?

A: There’s a little bit of mystery here — appraisal district records online list the owner of that property simply as “cemetery.”

However, the city of Longview cuts the grass there. I understand that city officials planned to do some maintenance work out there after I contacted them with your concern.

Answer Line note: Please accept my apologies for a delay in responding to a reader who asked me in mid-September about the clear backpacks that the newly formed charter school within Longview ISD, East Texas Advanced Academies, provided to students at its campuses. The reader said some of the backpacks had started to rip in some places and wanted to know what the district was planning to do about it.

I had been waiting for the district to tell me the source for the backpacks, which I learned late last week is the California company AnyPromo, which the district has used to purchase promotional items before, for instance, for recruiting and retention efforts.

When I first asked about the backpacks in September, the district provided this statement to me from Cynthia Wise, head of Longview ISD’s charter school system:

“There has been some issues with backpacks tearing however, we’ve asked the principals to issue new backpacks and we’ve made the manufacturer aware so that they can be replaced. At Forest Park, there have been five out of 500 that needed to be returned/replaced,” Wise said in an email. She said at that time she hadn’t heard of concerns from the elementary school campuses.

“But should there be any issues we will fix those as well. We issued over 3,500 backpacks without a hitch! I am proud to be able to say that we were able to help so many families and I would do it again.”

— Answer Line appears Thursday and Saturday. Email questions to , leave a message at (903) 232-7208 or write to P.O. Box 1792, Longview, TX 75606.