National Instant Criminal Background Check System Celebrates 20 Years of Service

Launched by the FBI on November 30, 1998, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System is used by Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms.

Today the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) commemorates two decades of operation and service. NICS was created in response to the passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 and became operational on November 30, 1998. NICS was designed so that federal firearms licensees could immediately ascertain a person’s eligibility under federal and state law to receive or possess a firearm.

Over the past 20 years, NICS has experienced incredible growth in the volume of background checks passing through the system. Early on, the system averaged between 8 million and 9 million checks annually. In more recent years, the annual total has tripled, averaging between 25 million and 27 million. In fact, NICS processed its 300 millionth check on November 4, 2018. Of those checks handled by the FBI, the staff and system consistently have been able to provide an immediate determination to the firearm dealer approximately 90 percent of the time. The NICS system underwent a complete hardware and software refresh in 2016 and maintains an impressive 99 percent availability rate.

“In my more than 20 years of service in the federal government, I have never witnessed the degree of dedication and commitment as that which resides within the employees of the NICS program,” said NICS Section Chief Robin Stark-Nutter in recognition of the NICS anniversary. “Their love of the NICS mission and their respect for the industry in which they serve makes me humbled and honored to stand alongside them today. But as we take a moment to reflect on the incredible growth and accomplishments of the past, I believe it is equally prudent to acknowledge our future—a future that promises even greater efficiency, accuracy, and service to the citizens of the United States. Congratulations to all federal and state users of the NICS on a job done exceptionally well, and thank you to the local, state, tribal and federal partners that support us.”