The NICS conducts background checks on people who want to own a firearm or explosive, as required by law.
When a person tries to buy a firearm, the seller, known as a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL), contacts NICS electronically or by phone. The prospective buyer fills out the ATF form, and the FFL relays that information to the NICS. The NICS staff performs a background check on the buyer. That background check verifies the buyer does not have a criminal record or isn't otherwise ineligible to purchase or own a firearm. Since launching in 1998, more than 300 million checks have been done, leading to more than 1.5 million denials.
The NICS is customarily available by phone 17 hours a day, seven days a week, including holidays (except for Christmas). Calls may be monitored and recorded for any authorized purpose. The NICS E-Check is available 24/7.
NICS provides full service to the FFLs in 31 states, five U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. The NICS provides partial service to six states. The remaining 13 states perform their own checks through the NICS.