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The Brady Act prohibits transfer of a firearm to a person who —
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 firearm transfers and permit checks conducted by state and local agencies, and combines this information with FBI NICS transaction data. Under FIST, additional information is collected on reasons for denials, appeals of denials, and law enforcement actions the FBI and the ATF take against denied persons.
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.
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 —
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, an 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 state POC. Most inquiries are initiated by telephone. In 2002, the FBI added E-Check to allow FFLs to electronically request a check.
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.
Each state government determines the extent of its involvement in the NICS process.
Three levels of state involvement currently exist:
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 background 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 2000 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 3,086 state and local checking agencies. Thirty statewide agencies were included, along with a stratified random sample of local agencies. Overall, 670 agencies provided data for a response rate of 84.9%.
|Population served by agencies||Number of agencies||Response rate|
|10,000 to 100,000||1,242||397||330||83.1%|
National estimates were developed using population weighting factors. When an agency did not provide data for all months, a simple linear extrapolation or interpolation was used to generate a 12-month total.
Michigan reported carry permit information by fiscal year, which was used to estimate for the calendar year. An estimate based on state population was used to determine the number of carry permit applications and denials in Mississippi. Pennsylvania reported 398,830 instant checks, included in the FIST national estimate, and 123,744 applications for nonexempt carry permits. Pennsylvania provided the combined number of denials of all applications, which was prorated to obtain the number of denials of instant checks. Full-year data were not available for Tennessee, but an estimate of the state's instant checks was included in the national estimate.
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 enrolled with the FBI NICS Section in order to be classified as an FFL.
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; includes information 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.
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.
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