Presale checks under the federal Brady law blocked the sale of some 69,000 handguns in 1997, more than half because the prospective buyer was a convicted felon or was under a felony indictment, the Justice Department says.

The rejections amounted to just 2.7 percent of the 2,574,000 applications nationwide for handgun sales during the year, the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics reported Sunday.Since the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act took effect in February 1994, through last Dec. 31, 242,000 purchases have been stopped because of the checks, out of a total 10,356,000 purchase applications, the bureau estimated.

Felony convictions or indictments for the would-be handgun buyer accounted for 61.7 percent of last year's rejections.

The second most frequent reason for denial was a record of domestic violence, which was responsible for 11.2 percent, including 9.1 percent who had misdemeanor domestic violence convictions and 2.1 percent who were under court orders restraining them from harming or stalking an intimate partner or child.

An additional 5.9 percent of the denials were for buyers who turned out to be fugitives from justice.

State law prohibitions accounted for 6.1 percent of the rejections, drug addiction for 1.6 percent, mental illness for 0.9 percent and local law prohibitions for 0.9 percent.

The remaining 11.7 percent of the denials came from all others barred from handgun purchases under the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968, including illegal aliens, juveniles, dishonorably discharged servicemen and people who have renounced U.S. citizenship.

The estimates were based on a sampling of the chief law enforcement officers whose agencies conduct the background checks.

Beginning this November, presale checks will be required for all firearms, not just handguns, purchased from federally licensed dealers. The dealers will make the checks through an automated system that Justice Department officials have said will be operable by then.

Unless a state has set up an approved permit system, the dealers will use computers or the telephone to contact the FBI's national instant criminal background check system directly or go through a state agency serving as an FBI contact point.

Last week, Attorney General Janet Reno urged states to do their own criminal background checks, rather than leave them to the FBI. "No one knows more about state records than the states themselves," she said.