March 19, 2012
Originally published in the March 2012 edition of the CJIS Link, Volume 14, Number 1
Firearms purchasers and state agencies are keeping the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) busier than usual. Within the last six months, the NICS has experienced five record-breaking processing days, surpassed 140 million firearms background checks and seen state entries into the NICS Index more than double.
Black Friday 2011 and Other Record Days
NICS had a record-breaking day of firearms background checks on November 25, 2011. More than 129,166 checks were conducted on Black Friday sales. This number is the highest one-day total ever, 32 percent over the previous record on Black Friday 2008. Federal checks also posted the highest day ever on Black Friday 2011 with 81,609 completed. The same day, the NICS Contracted Call Centers handled a record 69,497 checks and NICS E-Checks had a record day of 11,953 transactions conducted. That’s a lot of satisfied gun buyers and also a lot of guns kept out of the wrong hands.
The second-busiest gun-buying day in NICS’ history was December 23, 2011, in the holiday rush two days before Christmas, with 102,222 checks completed. Another record-breaking processing day occurred on February 10, 2012, just four days before Valentine’s Day, with 75,435 checks conducted.
140 Million Checks and Counting
On December 17, 2011, NICS’ staff processed its 140 millionth firearms background check. The transaction was an immediate proceed for a long gun purchase out of Paris, Arkansas. This is a significant milestone in the system’s history since its beginning in 1998.
NICS Index on the Rise
In January 2008, Congress signed the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007 (NIAA), which authorized the Attorney General to obtain electronic versions of information on individuals disqualified by federal law from purchasing or possessing firearms; that information is stored in the NICS Index for use in determining eligibility to purchase firearms. (The NICS Index contains information on individuals who are prohibited from possessing a firearm when disqualifying information may not be available through the National Crime Information Center or the Interstate Identification Index.) The NIAA also required the Attorney General to establish regulations and procedures to protect the privacy of records submitted to the NICS, through consultations with state and mental health agencies regarding the adequacy of proposed regulations.
Since the NIAA was signed into law in January 2008, statistical totals for all NICS Index categories have more than doubled. From January 31, 2008, to December 31, 2011, state entry totals in the NICS Index increased from 1,090,099 to 2,289,386. State mental health entries in the NICS Index saw a similar increase from 405,761 to 1,218,156 for the same time period.
One of the biggest hurdles to states submitting records to the NICS Index is state laws that prohibit sharing mental health information. However, states are required to make this information available if they wish to obtain grant funding through the NICS Act Record Improvement Program (NARIP). The state of Oregon received NARIP funding in 2009 and 2010, using the $770,849 and $2 million, respectively, to update criminal history records and automate systems to achieve NICS Index participation and share disqualifying mental health information. During the last few days of 2011, Oregon submitted 24,729 mental health entries to the NICS Index.
To assist states in their application for NARIP funding, the NICS Section has hosted NIAA Regional meetings where NICS staff assist state representatives in their efforts to meet the requirements of the NIAA for completeness of records, for funding, and legislation.
Whether it’s Black Friday or a “slow day,” NICS staff are hard at work processing transactions and assisting states with ensuring records are complete to help facilitate the legal purchase of firearms by citizens and to prevent firearms from ending up in the hands of those barred from owning them.