The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was established as a result of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 (Brady Act) requirements. The Brady Act required a national namecheck system for federal firearms licensees (FFL). FFLs, such as gun shop owners, pawn shop dealers, and retailers use NICS to determine whether a person can legally buy or own a firearm. Operated by the FBI, the NICS background check was developed with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and state and local law enforcement agencies.
Who must comply with the requirements to conduct a NICS background check prior to transferring a firearm?
Licensed firearms importers, manufacturers, and dealers must conduct a NICS background check prior to the transfer of any firearm to a nonlicensed individual.
Are NICS checks conducted by ATF?
No. NICS checks are conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Does every NICS background check go through the FBI’s NICS Operations Center?
No. In many states, licensees initiate NICS checks through the state point of contact (POC) serving as an intermediary between a licensee and the federal databases checked by the NICS.
Is there a charge for NICS checks?
The FBI does not charge a fee for conducting an NICS background check. However, states that act as points of contact for NICS checks may charge a fee consistent with state law.
How does a licensee know whether to contact the FBI or a POC in order to initiate a NICS check?
Please refer to our Permanent Brady State Lists page or the FBI’s NICS Participation Map for information on which states and territories act as full or partial POCs. Your local ATF office can also advise you on the appropriate point of contact for NICS checks.
Must licensees enroll with the FBI to get access to NICS?
Licensees must be enrolled with the FBI before they can initiate NICS checks through the FBI’s NICS Operations Center. Licensees who have not received an enrollment package from the FBI should call FBI NICS Customer Service at 1-877-FBI-NICS (324-6427) and ask that an enrollment package be sent to them. Licensees in states where a state agency is acting as a point of contact for NICS checks should contact the state for enrollment information.
Is a NICS background check required for the transfer of long guns as well as handguns?
Yes. Licensed manufacturers, importers, and dealers must conduct a background check for the transfer of all firearms subject to the Gun Control Act.
Is a NICS background check required for the transfer of antique firearms?
No. Because weapons that meet the definition of an “antique firearm” are not firearms subject to the Gun Control Act, licensees need not conduct a background check when transferring an antique firearm.
Must a licensee conduct a NICS background check for the transfer of firearms to another licensee?
Is a NICS background check required for a licensee’s loan or rental of a firearm to a nonlicensee?
If the firearm is loaned or rented for use on the licensee’s premises, a background check is not required. However, if the firearm is loaned or rented for use off the premises, the licensee must conduct a background check prior to the transfer of the firearm.
Must licensees conduct a NICS background check for the sale of firearms to nonlicensees at gun shows?
Yes. A licensee conducting business temporarily at a gun show must comply with the background check provisions in the same manner as if the sale were taking place at the licensed premises.
Is a NICS background check required for the sale of a firearm to a law enforcement official for their personal use?
Yes. In such transactions, the law enforcement official is treated no differently from any other unlicensed transferee, and a NICS background check must be conducted.
Are there transfers that are exempt from the NICS background check requirement?
Firearm transfers are exempt from the requirement for a NICS background check in three situations:
- Transfers to transferees who have a state permit that has been recognized by ATF as an alternative to a NICS check;
- Transfers of National Firearms Act weapons to persons approved by ATF; and
- Transfers certified by ATF as exempt because compliance with the NICS background check requirement is impracticable.
What does it mean when a licensee receives a “cancelled” response from the FBI to a NICS background check?
On occasion, the FBI may provide a licensee with a “cancelled” response. Transactions will be cancelled if the FBI discovers that the NICS check was not initiated in accordance with ATF or FBI regulations. For example, a NICS check will be cancelled if it is initiated for a non-authorized purpose or by a non-authorized individual. A licensee cannot transfer a firearm when a “cancelled” response is provided by NICS.
Can one NICS check be used for more than one firearms transaction?
No. A licensee must initiate a new NICS background check for each completed firearms transaction. However, a person may purchase or acquire several firearms in one transaction.
A transferee completes an ATF Form 4473 for a single firearm on February 15. The licensee receives a “proceed” from NICS that day. The licensee signs the form, and the firearm is transferred. On February 20, the transferee returns to the licensee’s premises and wishes to acquire a second firearm.
The acquisition of the second firearm is a separate transaction. Therefore, a new NICS check must be initiated by the licensee.
A transferee completes ATF Form 4473 for a single firearm on February 15. The licensee receives a “proceed” from NICS that day. The transferee does not return to pick up the firearm until February 20. Before the licensee completes the transfer of the first firearm, the transferee decides to acquire an additional firearm. The second firearm may be recorded on the same Form 4473.
The acquisition of the two firearms is considered a single transaction. Therefore, the licensee is not required to conduct a new NICS check prior to transferring the second firearm.
How long is a NICS check valid?
A NICS background check is valid for 30 calendar days for any transaction. The 30 calendar day period is counted beginning on the day after NICS was initially contacted.
Where more than 30 calendar days have passed since the licensee first contacted NICS, the licensee must initiate a new NICS check prior to transferring the firearm. It is not necessary to complete a new ATF Form 4473, but the results of the new NICS background check must be recorded on the form.
A NICS check is initiated on May 15. The licensee receives a “proceed” from NICS. The transferee does not return to pick up the firearm until June 22 of the same year.
The licensee must conduct another NICS check before transferring the firearm to the transferee.
A NICS check is initiated on May 15. The licensee receives a “delayed” response from NICS; no further response is received. The transferee does not return to pick up the firearm until June 16 of the same year.
The licensee must conduct another NICS background check before transferring the firearm to the transferee.
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