Guide to the
National Instant Check System
The National Instant Check System (NICS) for firearms transactions takes
effect Nov. 30, 1998, replacing the Brady Act's five-day waiting period.
The following provides answers to some of the most common questions
What exactly is NICS?
According to the FBI, NICS "will be a national database containing
records of persons who are disqualified from receiving firearms."
The NICS computer and analysis center is located in West Virginia, and
the FBI is in charge of its operation.
The NICS computerized system is designed to handle most checks in less
than 2_ minutes and roughly 150 transactions per minute. It will be open
from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. Eastern Time, seven days a week, closed only
on Thanksgiving and Christmas. (FBI regulations for the NICS system can
be found here: National
Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) Information
How is NICS set up?
There will be three methods of accessing checks, depending on the state
in which a federal firearms license (FFL) holder does business. In some
states, FFLs will contact NICS through a designated state point of
contact (POC) for all transfers. In some states, FFLs will perform
checks by contacting the NICS Operation Center for all transfers. In
other states, FFLs will contact their state POC for handgun transfers,
and the NICS Operation Center for long gun transfers.
How will FFLs contact
FFLs will be informed how to contact NICS by BATF, which is also
responsible for establishing regulations pertaining to Brady Act
implementation and for clarifying permit exemption questions. FFLs will
contact NICS either directly by a toll-free call or computer, or through
their local POC.
Will there be a fee
for the background checks?
The FBI will not charge the FFL or the state agency a fee to check the
What are the major
differences between the current law and NICS?
Originally, Brady waiting period requirements applied only to handguns.
Under the permanent Brady provision, both handgun and long gun
purchasers must be checked. Individuals with right-to-carry permits or
permits-to-purchase that comply with BATF regulations and the permanent
Brady law won't have to undergo a NICS check at the time of transfer in
Another key change will be the elimination of the pawn shop exemption.
Under the new system, a background check will be required for claiming a
pawned firearm. A NICS check must be done when pawned guns returned to
their owners after Nov. 30, 1998. Basically, any transaction requiring a
form 4473 to be filled out will be subject to a NICS check.
NICS checks don't nullify state laws. If your state has a waiting period
or other requirement as a condition of owning a firearm, the NICS check
won't exempt you from those obligations.
How will NICS
Once a dealer and buyer are prepared to conclude a transfer, a retailer
who does NICS checks by contacting the FBI system directly by phone will
do the following:
1) Call a NICS operator by toll-free number and confirm his identity
with his FFL number and dealer-selected password.
2) Provide the operator with the name, date-of-birth, sex and race of
the potential buyer and the type of transfer--handgun or long gun. A
buyer with a common name may, at his option, provide his Social
Security number to help speed the check.
3) The system will check the data against its database of prohibited
persons. If there is no "hit," the sale will be approved. The
system will assign a NICS Transaction Number (NTN) to the approval. The
dealer will log the NTN on the form 4473, and the transfer will proceed.
4) Partially completed forms 4473, where a proposed sale has been
denied, will be required to be retained by the FFL per BATF regulations.
5) When a "hit" occurs, the dealer will receive instruction to
delay the transaction. A "delay" response indicates that the
check turned up information that requires further review by an analyst,
who will contact the dealer by return call "within a couple of
hours," the FBI says.
While the law provides three business days for the FBI to respond, the
FBI anticipates that virtually every delay will be handled within a day.
If records require further investigation, the FBI may take up to three
days to issue either a proceed or a denial. There will be an appeals
process for purchasers who feel they were denied in error, and dealers
will be furnished with forms for this process.
My state has agreed to be a POC state for all firearms transfers. We
don't have a permit-to-purchase or a carry permit. If I go to a gun
store to buy a shotgun, what will happen?
You will fill out the
BATF form 4473, and the dealer will call a contact phone number provided
him by the state. The state office will then contact NICS and check your
name against its database of disqualified persons. The state officer
will receive a NICS transfer number (NTN) which will be given to the
dealer, who will record that number on the form 4473. The transfer of
the firearm will be allowed if no matching record is found. Upon
completing Part B of the 4473, the transfer is considered complete, and
you take title to, and possession of, your shotgun. The state may
require additional forms and may also assign a state transaction number
(STN) to the transaction.
My state has a
permit-to-purchase system. What can I expect under the NICS system?
Permits that meet the criteria established by BATF will exempt
purchasers from a NICS check at the point-of-sale, and handgun permits
that meet the criteria will be accepted for long gun purchases. New
buyers who do not have a permit will have to undergo a NICS check, but
all "permit states" are expected to incorporate a NICS check
into the permit application process by Nov. 30, 1998. Also, anyone
renewing his permit will undergo a NICS check at that time.
Note, however, that the exemption for permit holders only applies if the
permit was issued within the past five years, and the permit process has
verified that possession of a firearm by the applicant would not violate
any federal or state law.
BATF's position is that "as of Nov. 30, 1998, the 'information
available to' state officials will include the NICS database.
Accordingly . . . permits issued on or after Nov. 30, 1998, will be
valid alternatives under the permanent provisions of the Brady law only
if the state officials conduct a NICS check on all permit
So, a permit holder with a permit issued more than five years prior will
need to undergo a NICS check, as will new permit applicants. Permit
renewal applicants will undergo a NICS check at the appropriate time as
well. The state agency responsible for issuing permits can answer any
questions about how these changes will be implemented.
check" and "point-of-sale check" systems qualify as NICS
BATF says existing state "instant check" and
"point-of-sale" checks, as currently configured, will not
qualify as alternatives to NICS. The key word is "currently."
As of this writing, all states with existing "instant check"
systems are expected to include a NICS check by Nov. 30, 1998, thus
meeting the requirement. The change should be unnoticeable to buyers and
What does the NICS system contain that a state background check
NICS will provide a more extensive background check of the purchaser
than systems that contain only criminal records. NICS will include
records from the Department of Defense concerning dishonorable
discharges, records from the State Department regarding people who have
renounced their citizenship and other information not available in
My qualifying state
permit exempts me from NICS checks, but are there other exemptions?
Purchases of firearms
that 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, for 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) and the absence of telecommunications
facilities, are also exempt.
How will state
waiting periods and multiple purchases work relative to a NICS check?
Considered valid for 30
days, NICS checks may be applied to more than one firearm, provided the
additional firearms are transferred as part of one transaction. A
transaction is only considered complete when Part B of the 4473 is
executed, and the customer takes possession of the firearm. Here are
some different scenarios:
Someone buys a firearm on December 15, undergoes a NICS check, and the
dealer receives permission to transfer the firearm. However, the state
requires a seven-day wait. The customer doesn't return to pick up the
gun until January 20. At that time, since more than 30 days has elapsed,
the customer must undergo another NICS check.
Another person fills out a 4473, undergoes a NICS check, and decides to
purchase a firearm. Before completing section B of the 4473, he decides
to purchase a second firearm. That second firearm can be transferred to
the customer without requiring a second NICS check.
A third purchaser buys a firearm, fills out the 4473, and undergoes a
NICS check. Five days later, he returns to buy a second firearm. He must
undergo another NICS check because filling out section B of the 4473 and
taking possession of the first gun concluded the transaction.
Do either a gunsmith
or a manufacturer need to do a NICS check before returning a firearm to
its owner after performing repair work or other modification?
No. In neither case does
a NICS check need to be performed.
How are gun show sales affected by NICS?
Private sales of
firearms will require a NICS check in states that require secondary
sales be handled through an FFL dealer. The FBI is developing special
provisions for handling NICS checks at gun shows, and, in the interim,
they can be conducted by phone in states where dealers contact NICS
directly. Gun show sales will be subject to applicable state and local
laws. The circumstances requiring a NICS check for firearm transfers
from dealers will apply regardless of whether the sale is
conducted from the dealer's premises.
I understand antiques
will not require a NICS check, but curios and relics will. Why?
Under federal law,
firearms meeting the antique definition are not considered
"firearms," and no NICS check is required. If a collector of
curios and relics sells firearms from his private collection, BATF says
no NICS check is required. Holders of BATF collector licenses, as a
category, are exempt from NICS checks on the transfer of curio and relic
firearms. However, if a licensed dealer sells a curio or relic to John
Q. Public, a NICS check is required.
If the NICS computer
"crashes," are there any back-up provisions in place?
In the event of a
"crash," if a dealer is not notified that the transfer should
be denied in three business days, the transfer may proceed. However, if
a state POC network goes down, a dealer may not contact NICS directly.
state won't be a POC state for long guns. What happens when a permit
holder comes in to buy 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 check to buy a long
gun. A non-permit holder buying a long gun will need a NICS check.