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.
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 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.
The NICS Section provides full service to FFLs in:
- 31 states,
- five U.S. territories, and
- the District of Columbia.
The NICS Section conducts long gun background checks in six states. The remaining 13 states conduct their own firearm background checks through the NICS.
Twenty-five 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.