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, NICS was developed with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and state and local law enforcement agencies.
Privacy and Security of NICS Information
The privacy and security of the information in the NICS is governed by regulations. The FBI takes extensive measures to ensure the security and integrity of the system information and agency use. The NICS is not to be used to establish a federal firearm registry. Information about an inquiry resulting in a firearms receipt or transfer is destroyed, per NICS regulations.
Law Enforcement Returning Firearms
Law enforcement agencies may use the NICS to return firearms under the agency's control to an individual. This is known as the Disposition of Firearms (DOF). While not required, the NICS Section recommends agencies use the DOF process to help determine if a person is eligible to own firearms. Law enforcement agencies can contact NICSLiaison@fbi.gov for more information.
NICS Participation Map
The NICS Section provides full service to FFLs in:
- 32 states,
- five U.S. territories, and
- the District of Columbia.
The NICS Section conducts long gun background checks in five states. The remaining 13 states conduct their own firearm background checks through the NICS.
Twenty-six states issue ATF-qualified alternate permits that may substitute for a NICS background check. Before issuing or renewing an alternate permit, which is only valid for a specified time, the state must complete a NICS background check. A person with an active qualified permit is not required to have another NICS background check.
More NICS Information
Firearms Checks (NICS)
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) conducts background checks on people who want to own a…
Appeals and Voluntary Appeal File
Information and frequently asked questions about the NICS appeal process and the Voluntary Appeal File (VAF).
Resources for Federal Firearms Licensees
Resources for Federal Firearms Licensees (FFL), including information on enrollment, NICS E-Check, and NICS Resolution Cards
The NICS Indices contains information on people who are are prohibited from receiving firearms by federal or state law.