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Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2009 - Statistical Tables


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This web page describes background checks for firearm transfers conducted in 2009. The statistical tables below provide the number of firearm transaction applications checked by state points of contact and local agencies, the number of applications denied and the reasons for denial, and estimates of applications and denials conducted by each type of approval system. Data are also provided on appeals of denied applications and arrests for falsified applications.

Michael Bowling, Ph.D., Ronald J. Frandsen, and Gene A. Lauver from Regional Justice Information Service (REJIS) prepared these tables under the supervision of Devon B. Adams and Allina D. Boutilier, of the Bureau of Justice Statistics and Terry J. Tomazic, Professor of Sociology at Saint Louis University, served as statistical advisor and Dave Naglich at REJIS assisted with data analysis on the project.  The tables were prepared under BJS cooperative agreement #2009-BJ-CX-K006. The BJS sponsored Firearm Inquiry Statistics (FIST) program collects information on firearm background checks conducted by state and local agencies and combines this information with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) transaction data. NCJ 231679.

Summary findings

  • From the inception of the Brady Act on March 1, 1994, through December 31, 2009, almost 108 million applications for firearm transfers or permits were subject to background checks. More than 1.9 million applications were denied. (Table 1)
  • In 2009, 1.4% of the 10.8 million applications for firearm transfers or permits were denied by the FBI (67,000) or by state and local agencies (83,000). The denial rate for applications checked by the FBI (1.1%) was lower than the rate for checks by state and local agencies (1.8%). (Table 2)
  • Among all state agencies, denial rates for instant check systems ranged from more than 4% to less than 1%. (Table 3a)
  • A felony conviction or indictment was the most common reason for a denial by the FBI (49%), a state (39%), or a local agency (22%) in 2009. (Table 4)  
  • A domestic violence misdemeanor conviction or restraining order was the second most common reason for denial by a state (14%) or local agency (16%) in 2009. (Table 4)
  • Among all agencies conducting background checks, 55% of applications were denied due to reasons other than a felony conviction in 2009. (Table 5)
  • In 2009 more than 33,000 denials were appealed (22% of denials) and more than 12,000 appeals resulted in reversal of the denial (37% of appeals). (Table 6)
  • According to state and local checking agencies that reported arrests, 1,512 denied persons were arrested in 2009 due to an outstanding warrant or submission of false information on an application. (Table 7)
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) field offices investigated 4,681 National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) denials that were referred by the FBI in 2009. (Table 8)
  • Records of persons ineligible to possess a firearm due to a mental health commitment or adjudication increased 37% in the NICS Index from January 1, 2009, to December 31, 2009; overall, the number of records in the index increased 4%. (Table 9)

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Background

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 (Pub. L. No. 103-159, 107 Stat.1536 (1993), codified as amended at 18 U.S.C. Section 921 et seq.) mandates a criminal history background check on any person who attempts to purchase a firearm from a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL). The permanent provisions of the Brady Act established the NICS, which is accessed by the FBI or a state point of contact (POC) prior to transferring a firearm. The NICS is a system comprising data on persons who are prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm under the Brady Act or under state law.

The Brady Act prohibits transfer of a firearm to a person who —

  • is under indictment for, or has been convicted of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than 1 year
  • is a fugitive from justice
  • is an unlawful user of, or addicted to, a controlled substance
  • has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution
  • is an illegal alien or has been admitted to the U.S. under a nonimmigrant visa
  • was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces
  • has renounced U.S. citizenship
  • is subject to a court order restraining him or her from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child
  • has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence
  • is under age 18 for long guns or under age 21 for handguns.

An FFL contacts either the FBI or state POC to determine whether a prospective purchaser is prohibited from receiving a firearm. The FBI conducts all NICS checks for 29 states.  POC agencies, which may be statewide or local, conduct all NICS checks for 13 other states.  In the remaining 8 states, NICS checks are conducted by POC agencies on handgun transfer applicants and by the FBI on long gun transfer applicants. Several states require an additional background check, usually by a local agency that does not access the NICS but uses only state records. State laws may require a check on a permit applicant or a person who seeks to receive a firearm from an unlicensed seller.

For more information on the NICS, visit the FBI Criminal Justice Information Service (CJIS) website.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) began the Firearm Inquiry Statistics (FIST) project in 1995 to provide national estimates of the total number of firearm applications received and denied pursuant to the Brady Act and similar state laws. The FIST project collects counts of firearms transfers and permit checks conducted by state and local agencies and combines this information with the FBI NICS transaction data. In addition, FIST collects information on reasons for denials, appeals of denials, and law enforcement actions the FBI and the ATF have taken against denied persons.

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Statistical tables

To access an individual table, click on the table number below:
 
Table 1. Number of applications and estimates of denials for firearm transfers or permits since the inception of the Brady Act, 1994-2009
Table 2. Number of applications and denials, by type of agency and type of check, 1999-2009
Table 3a. Number of firearm applications received and denied by selected state agencies, 1999-2009
Table 3b.
Local denial rates by community size and type of permit, 1999-2009
Table 4
. Reasons for denial of firearm transfer applications by checking agencies, 2009
Table 5. Number of applications, denials, and reasons for denials, 2009
Table 6. Appeals by type of checking agency, 1999-2009
Table 7. Reported arrests of denied persons, by type of agency, 1999-2009
Table 8. ATF investigation of National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Index denials by the FBI, 2009
Table 9. Counts of National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Index prohibited person records, 2009
 
Appendix tables
Appendix table 1. Agencies conducting firearm background checks, December 31, 2009
Appendix table 2. National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS): Checking agencies – FBI or state point of contact – for firearm transfers, 2009
Appendix table 3. Forums for appeals of denials, 2009

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Additional information

Components of the national firearm check system

About 3,000 federal, state, and local agencies conduct background checks on persons who apply to purchase a firearm or for a permit that may be used to make a purchase. Variations in federal and state procedures for determining firearm possession eligibility are summarized below.

Overview of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)

Prospective firearm applicants undergo a NICS check that has been requested by a dealer, or the applicant must present a state permit that the ATF has qualified as an alternative to the point-of-transfer check.

ATF-approved permits are those that —
  • allow an applicant to possess, acquire, or carry a firearm, and
  • were issued not more than 5 years earlier by the state where the transfer is to take place, after an authorized government official verified that possession of a firearm by the applicant would not be a violation of law.

All permits issued since November 29, 1998, must have included a NICS check. Many state-qualifying permits may be used for multiple purchases while valid. State laws often provide that a permit will be revoked if the holder is convicted of an offense or otherwise becomes ineligible after receiving the permit. Prior to transferring a firearm under the permanent Brady provisions, a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) is required to obtain a completed Firearm Transaction Record (ATF form 4473) from the applicant.


An FFL initiates a NICS check by contacting either the FBI or the state POC. Most inquiries are initiated by telephone. In 2002 the FBI added E-Check to allow FFLs to request a check electronically. The FBI or POC queries available federal, state, and local systems and notifies the FFL that the transfer may proceed, may not proceed, or must be delayed pending further review of the applicant's record.

An applicant who is denied may appeal to the FBI or the POC. A denied person who submitted a false application or has an outstanding warrant may be subject to arrest and prosecution under federal or state laws.

State and local NICS participation

Each state government determines the extent of its involvement in the NICS process.

Three levels of state involvement currently exist:

  • A full POC requests a NICS check on all firearm transfers originating in the state.
  • A partial POC requests a NICS check on all handgun transfers; FFLs in the state are required to contact the FBI for NICS checks for long gun transfers.
  • The state does not maintain a POC; FFLs are required to contact the FBI for NICS checks on all firearm transfers originating in the state.

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Methodology

The Regional Justice Information Service (REJIS), through a cooperative agreement with BJS under the FIST program, collected the data from federal, state, and local agencies.

State and local checking agencies were stratified by size of the population served: state agencies that served an entire state population; local agencies that served a population greater than 100,000; local agencies that served a population between 10,000 and 100,000; and local agencies that served a population of less than 10,000. Population size was based on 2005 Census Bureau information. The population categories were chosen to be consistent with those used by the FBI when conducting similar studies.

The sample for the FIST survey was selected from the population of 2,951 state and local checking agencies. A total of 816 agencies were surveyed, including 30 statewide agencies and a stratified random sample of local agencies. Overall, 559 agencies provided data for a response rate of 69%.

Population served by agencies Number of agencies Response rate

Total Sample Responses

   Total

2,951

 

816  

559

 

  69%

     

Statewide

30

 

30

 

30

 

   100%

Under 10,000

1,656

 

364

 

236

 

65

10,000 to 100,000

1,155

 

373

 

264

 

71

Over 100,000

110

 

49

 

29

 

59

National estimates of applications and denials were developed using population weighting factors. When an agency did not provide data for all months, missing data were imputed by calculating and applying a monthly average based on available data.

Michigan reported carry permit data by fiscal year, which was used to estimate for the calendar year. Pennsylvania reported 469,598 instant checks, included in the FIST national estimate, and 177,888 applications for nonexempt licenses to carry. Also, Pennsylvania provided the combined number of denials of all applications, which was prorated to obtain the number of denials of instant checks.

Information on appeals and arrests has been collected by the FIST project since the year 2000. The FBI provided data on appeals for 2009, and state and local agencies provided data on appeals and arrests for 2009.

 

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Definitions

National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) includes records contained within the systems searched by the NICS, which are: the Interstate Identification Index (millions of criminal history records), the National Crime Information Center (protection orders and active felony or misdemeanor warrants) and the NICS Index, a database created solely for the use of the NICS and containing information provided by local, state, and federal agencies pertaining to persons prohibited under federal law from receiving or possessing a firearm. Additionally, a fourth search of the applicable databases via the Department of Homeland Security's United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement is conducted for background checks initiated on all non-United States citizens.

Firearm is any weapon that is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.

Handgun is a firearm that has a short stock and is designed to be held and fired by the use of a single hand, such as a pistol or revolver.

Long gun is a firearm with a barrel extended to around 30 inches to improve accuracy and range, and commonly with a shoulder butt, designed to be fired with two hands, such as a rifle or shotgun.

Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) is also known as a federally licensed firearms dealer. A dealer must be licensed by ATF to be classified as an FFL and enrolled with the FBI NICS to request a NICS check. 

Application for firearm transfer is information submitted by a person to a state or local checking agency to purchase a firearm or obtain a permit that can be used for a purchase. Information may be submitted directly to a checking agency or forwarded by a prospective seller.

Denial occurs when an applicant is prohibited from receiving a firearm or a permit that can be used to receive a firearm because a disqualifying factor was found during a background check.

Transactions are inquiries to the Federal NICS system and may include more than one inquiry per application.

Instant check (instant approval) systems require a seller to transmit a purchaser's application to a checking agency by telephone or computer; the agency is required to respond immediately or as quickly as possible.

Purchase permit systems require a prospective firearm purchaser to obtain, after a background check, a government-issued document (called a permit, license, or identification card) that must be presented to a seller to receive a firearm.

Exempt carry permit is a state carry permit (issued after a background check) that exempts the holder from a check at the time of purchase under an ATF regulation or state law.

Other approval systems require a seller to transmit a purchaser's application to a checking agency by telephone or other electronic means; the agency is not required to respond immediately but must respond before the end of the statutory time limit.

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Related publications

Background Checks for Firearm Transfers. Describes number and outcome of applications for firearm transfers or permits subject to background checks.

In electronic format only:
Statistical tables

2008, 8/09. NCJ 227471
2007, 7/08. NCJ 223197
2006
, 3/08. NCJ 221786

In print and electronic formats:
Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2005, 11/06. Describes background checks for firearm transfers conducted in 2005. NCJ 214256

Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2004, 10/05. NCJ 210117
Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2003: Trends for the Permanent Brady Period, 1999-2003, 9/04. NCJ 204428
Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2002, 9/03. NCJ 200116
Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2001, 9/02. NCJ 195235
Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2000, 7/01. NCJ 187985
Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 1999, 6/99. NCJ 180882 Data on this subject for the Brady Interim period prior to the permanent provisions are available in Presale Handgun Checks, the Brady Interim Period, 1994-98.

Enforcement of the Brady Act, 2008: Federal and State Investigations and Prosecutions of Firearm Applicants Denied by a NICS Check in 2008, 6/10. NCJ 231052

Enforcement of the Brady Act, 2007: Federal and State Investigations and Prosecutions of Firearm Applicants Denied by a NICS Check in 2007 , 7/09. NCJ 227604

Enforcement of the Brady Act, 2006, 1/08

Federal Firearms Cases, FY 2008 , 1/10. NCJ 229420

Federal Firearms Cases, FY 2007, 11/08

Survey of State Procedures Related to Firearm Sales, 2005, 11/06. Provides an overview of the firearm check procedures in each of the states and their interaction with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) operated by the FBI. NCJ 214645

Survey of State Procedures Related to Firearm Sales, Midyear 2004, 8/05. NCJ 209288
Survey of State Procedures Related to Firearm Sales, Midyear 2003, 8/04. NCJ 203701
Survey of State Procedures Related to Firearm Sales, Midyear 2002, 4/03. NCJ 198830
Survey of State Procedures Related to Firearm Sales, Midyear 2001, 4/02. NCJ 192065
Survey of State Procedures Related to Firearm Sales, Midyear 2000, 4/01. NCJ 186766
Survey of State Procedures Related to Firearm Sales, Midyear 1999, 3/00. NCJ 179022
Survey of State Procedures Related to Firearm Sales, 1997, 12/98. NCJ 173942
Survey of State Procedures Related to Firearm Sales, 1996, 9/97. NCJ 160705
Survey of State Procedures Related to Firearm Sales, 5/96. NCJ 160763
Survey of State Records Included in Presale Background Checks: Mental Health Records, Domestic Violence Misdemeanor Records, and Restraining Orders, 2003, 8/04. Examines the quality and accessibility of certain criminal and noncriminal records when States conduct a firearm presale background check. NCJ 206042

Trends for Background Checks for Firearm Transfers 1999-2008, 7/10. NCJ 231187



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