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FBI NICs Background Check FAQs


Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions about the FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS):

What is the FBI NICS?

How is NICS used and accessed?

How will FFLs contact NICS?

Is there be a fee for the NICs background checks?

How does the FBI NICS system work?

My state has agreed to be considered a POC state for all firearms transfers. We don’t have a permit-to-purchase or a permit-to-carry. If I go to a gun store to purchase a shotgun, what then?

My state has a permit-to-purchase system. How does the NICS background check system apply to me?

What does the NICS system contain that a state background check system doesn’t?

My qualifying state permit exempts me from NICS checks, but are there other exemptions?

How will state waiting periods and multiple purchases work in accordance with a NICS check?

Does a gunsmith or a manufacturer need to run a NICS background check before returning a firearm to its owner after performing repair work or other modification?

I understand antiques don’t require background check, but curios and relics will. Why?

If the NICS computer “crashes,” what are the back-up provisions available?

My right-to-carry state isn’t a POC state for long guns. What happens when a permit holder comes in to purchase a rifle or shotgun?


What is the FBI NICS?

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), NICS "will be a national database containing records of persons who are disqualified from receiving firearms." The NICS computer and analysis center is situated in West Virginia, with the FBI in charge of its operation. The NICS computerized system is designed to handle most checks within just 2 minutes and roughly 150 transactions each minute. It is open from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. Eastern Time, 7 days a week, closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas. FBI NICs regulations – http://www.fbi.gov/programs/nics/index.htm

How is NICS used and accessed?

There are three ways of accessing NICs background checks, depending on the state where a federal firearms license (FFL) holder does business. In some states, FFLs will contact NICS via a designated state point of contact (POC) for transfers. In some states, FFLs will do background checks by contacting the NICS Operation Center for transfers. In other states, FFLs will contact their state POC for handgun transfers, along with the NICS Operation Center for long gun transfers.

How will FFLs contact NICS?

FFLs are informed on how they can contact NICS by BATF, which is responsible for establishing regulations related to the Brady Act implementation as well as for clarifying permit exemption questions. FFLs will contact NICS either directly by way of a toll-free call or computer, or through their local POC.

Is there be a fee for the NICs background checks?

The FBI is not going to charge the FFL or the state agency a fee to check the NICS system.

How does the FBI NICS system work?

Once a dealer and buyer are ready to conclude a transfer, a retailer can perform the NICS checks by contacting the FBI system directly by telephone needs to do the following: 

  • Call a NICS operator by toll-free number and confirm his identity together with his FFL number and dealer-selected password. 
  • Provide the operator with the name, date-of-birth, sex and race of the potential buyer as well as the type of transfer – handgun or long gun. A buyer who has a common name may, at his option, may provide his Social Security number to make the check finish faster. 
  • The system will confirm the data against its database of prohibited persons. If there is no "hit," the sale is approved. The system will assign a NICS Transaction Number (NTN) for the approval. The dealer will log the NTN in the form 4473, and then the transfer can proceed. 
  • Partially completed forms 4473, in which a proposed sale has been denied, is required to be retained by the FFL per BATF regulations. 
  • When a "hit" occurs, the seller will receive instructions to delay the transaction. A "delay" response shows that the check resulted in information that will require further review by an analyst, that will contact the dealer by return call "within a few hours" the FBI says.

While the law states that it provides three business days for the FBI to respond, the FBI anticipates that virtually every delay is going to be handled within a day. If records require further investigation, the FBI might take up to 72 hours to issue either a proceed or a denied response. There is, however, an appeals process for purchasers who feel that they were denied in error, and dealers are given forms for the process. 

If you have been denied purchase visit our Denial Appeals Process page.

My state has agreed to be considered a POC state for all firearms transfers. We don't have a permit-to-purchase or a permit-to-carry. If I go to a gun store to purchase a shotgun, what then?

You will need to complete the BATF form 4473, then the dealer will call a phone number provided to him by the state. The state office will then contact NICS and look up your name against its database of disqualified persons. The state officer will then get a NICS transfer number (NTN) which in turn will be given to the dealer, who then records that number on the form 4473. The transfer of the firearm will only be allowed if no matching record can be found. Upon completing Part B of the 4473, the transfer is regarded as complete, and you take possession of your shotgun. The state may need additional forms and may also assign a state transaction number (STN) for the transaction.

My state has a permit-to-purchase system. How does the NICS background check system apply to me?

Permits that qualify as established by BATF will exempt purchasers from a NICS background check with the point-of-sale, and handgun permits that meet the criteria will be accepted for long gun purchases. New buyers who do not possess a permit will need to undergo a NICS check, but all "permit states" are required to incorporate a NICS background check system into the permit application process. Also, anyone renewing his permit will undergo a NICS check. 

The exemption for permit holders only applies if the permit was issued within the past 5 years, and the permit process has verified that the person possessing the firearm does not violate any federal or state law.  So, a permit holder having a permit issued more than 5 years prior will need to undergo a NICS check, as will new permit applicants. 

What does the NICS system contain that a state background check system doesn't?

NICS background checks provide more extensive background checks than systems that include only criminal records and criminal history. The NICS report includes records from the Department of Defense concerning dishonorable discharges, records from the State Department regarding individuals who have renounced their citizenship along with other information not available in normal criminal background checks.

My qualifying state permit exempts me from NICS checks, but are there other exemptions?

Purchases of firearms which are subject to the National Firearms Act (i.e. machine guns, destructive devices, etc.) and that have been approved for transfer under 27 CFR Part 179 are not subject to a NICS check. Purchases of firearms, in which the Secretary of the Treasury determines compliance with NICS to be impractical because of the ratio of law enforcement officers to land area of the state (less than 25 officers per 10,000 square miles) along with the absence of telecommunications facilities, are also exempt.

How will state waiting periods and multiple purchases work in accordance with a NICS check?

Considered valid for 30 days, a single NICS check can be applied to more than one firearm, provided that any additional firearms are transferred as part of one transaction. A transaction is considered complete when Part B of the 4473 form is executed, and the customer takes possession of the firearm. 

Does a gunsmith or a manufacturer need to run a NICS background check before returning a firearm to its owner after performing repair work or other modification? 

No. In both cases, no NICS check is required.

I understand antiques don't require background check, but curios and relics will. Why?

Under federal law, firearms meeting the antique definition are not considered "firearms". If a collector of curios and relics sells firearms from his private collection, BATF says no NICS check is needed. Holders of BATF collector licenses are exempt from NICS checks for the transfer of curio and relic firearms. However, if the licensed dealer sells a curio or relic to anyone else in the public, a NICS check is required.

If the NICS computer "crashes," what are the back-up provisions available?

In case of a "crash," and a dealer isn't notified that the transfer is denied in three business days, the transfer may proceed. However, if a state POC network fails, a dealer should contact NICS directly.

My right-to-carry state isn't a POC state for long guns. What happens when a permit holder comes in to purchase a rifle or shotgun?

If your state's permit meets the criteria as an alternative under the NICS system, the permit holder is exempt from a NICS background check.


 
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