The Cyber Gun Patrol

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Just in time for the holiday shopping rush: Instant background checks for gun purchasers to screen out felons and other undesirables. Mandated by the 1993 Brady Act, a national computerized background check goes into effect today, replacing the voluntary checks that have been the responsibility of state and local law enforcement agencies up to now. The program will cover handguns as well as rifles and shotguns.

But will it work? An estimated 12.4 million firearms are sold in the U.S. each year, and critics fear the new system will smother under the load. Moreover, say gun opponents, the state databases that feed the the system are incomplete. Critics say that worst of all the system doesn't impose a waiting period to give impulsive gun buyers a chance to cool off.The FBI, of course, is aiming to prove the doubters wrong -- it's hiring more than 500 people to help run the system. The holiday season should be a trial by fire.