FBI Criminal Background Check

The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System

The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was created to provide an efficient way to check the criminal backgrounds for those seeking to purchase firearms or explosives. The NICS system is utilized by Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to check to see if an individual attempting to purchase a firearm or explosives is ineligible to purchase the items. In the past 10 years, more than 100 million checks have been performed, and approximately 700,000 denials have been processed.

The FBI’s NICS is located in Clarksburg, West Virginia and is part of the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services Division. The NICS serves 30 states, five territories and Washington D.C. The NICS was developed in response to a mandate from the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. The NICS was originally launched in November of 1998.

The NICS database is available approximately 17 hours per day, seven days per week. The NICS is not available on Christmas, but is available during other holidays throughout the year.

How the NICS is Used

The NICS database is utilized by FFLs when a potential customer completes the ATF Form 4473 to attempt to purchase a firearm. The licensee, usually a guns shop owner or manager, will use the information provided on Form 4473 to perform the instant background check. NICS checks may be performed over the internet or on the phone. The licensee is given an immediate answer with regard to the potential gun customer’s eligibility to purchase the firearm.

How the NICS Works

When an individual attempts to purchase a firearm, the licensee (usually the individual selling the gun) calls or contacts the NICS over the internet and provides the information given by the prospective buyer on ATF Form 4473. If no records are returned that match the individual’s data, the sale is approved within about 30 seconds. If questionable data is returned, the licensee is instructed to advise the purchaser that the sale will be delayed. With the licensee still on the phone, the call is forwarded to the NICS examiner who has access to confidential state and federal data.

The applicant’s information is checked using several additional databases. The examiner determines if any information prohibits the sale of a firearm to the individual. If no substantiating data is returned, the examiner advises the licensee that the sale may proceed. The licensee is required to record the NICS transaction number (NTN) on Form 4473 in line 21b. The form is retained by the licensee for future audits.

If the applicant’s data is found to match prohibitive criteria in the NICS system, the licensee is advised to deny the sale. If more information is required, the NICS examiner must investigate the details of the case. The licensee is required to notify the purchaser that there is a delay in the NICS check. The licensee then provides a notice to the purchaser that provides them with a date and time they may return to purchase the firearm if no additional information is discovered in the NICS investigation.

The NICS system requires a valid account for access to the system. The system is continually monitored for unauthorized access or improper use.

Requesting a Copy of Your NICS Record

The FBI maintains arrest records, or “rap sheets,” for individuals, along with their fingerprints and other identifying information. Individuals may request a copy of their own FBI record. The cost for a copy of your own record is $18. If requesting records for a couple or family, the $18 fee is required for each individual, as well as for each copy.

Requests for records must be made in writing and a form is available for download to request a copy of the record at FBI.gov. In addition to the fee, the requester must also provide their fingerprints to the agency. The fingerprint card must also include the requester’s name and date of birth. The FBI publishes a checklist for those requesting a copy of their FBI record, also at FBI.gov. Processing for the request takes about eight weeks.