Firearm-Related Challenge (Appeal) and Voluntary Appeal File (VAF)

NICS Logo With Bullets

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is a name check system that uses databases to determine if a person may legally receive or possess a firearm.

How Firearms Background Checks Work 

When someone tries to buy a firearm, the seller—known as a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL)—contacts the NICS. The prospective buyer fills out the required form, and the FFL sends that information to the NICS. The NICS staff performs a background check on the buyer to verify eligibility.

Prospective firearms buyers who receive a “Denied” status on their background checks may have a state or federal firearm prohibition. The denied individual may choose to pursue a challenge and/or apply to the Voluntary Appeal File.

A “Delayed” message means the NICS team needs to do additional research to verify the person's background. NICS staff work closely with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies and courts to verify eligibility. In some cases, this can be a time-consuming process.

If NICS staff cannot make a determination within three business days of a background check, the FFL may transfer the firearm, unless prohibited by state law (per the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993.)

I Was Denied a Firearm—What Happens Now? 

Firearm-Related Challenge

If you believe you have been wrongfully denied a firearm, you can request a firearm-related challenge (appeal). You may only challenge a denied firearm transaction, not a delayed one.

This process will provide you:

  • the reason your background check was denied, and
  • the opportunity to challenge your denied background check online – including a Nuclear Regulatory Commission background check.

State Permits

The FBI does not accept challenges or provide reasons for delays or denials on state-issued firearms permits. Those questions should be directed to the state agency. The NICS Participation Map explains whether your state, or the FBI, conducts firearms buyers’ background checks.

How to File a Firearm-Related Challenge

To challenge your firearm denial, visit

To submit a challenge through the mail, send a request to:

FBI CJIS Division
Attn: Criminal History Analysis Team 1
1000 Custer Hollow Road
Clarksburg, WV 26306

When submitting a challenge via mail, include your NICS Transaction Number (NTN) or State Transaction Number (STN). Failure to include these numbers will delay processing.

Help with Your Firearm-Related Challenge

If you need help or have questions on firearm-related challenges, call (304) 625-5590 or email (This contact information is for help with firearm-related challenges only, not the Voluntary Appeal File.)

I Have Been Denied a Firearm Multiple Times or Experience Delays – What Should I Do? 

Voluntary Appeal File (VAF)

Anyone may apply for the VAF, but it is designed for firearm purchasers who believe they are legally allowed to buy firearms, but they have been denied more than once or frequently experience delays in their transactions. Purchasers sometimes find themselves experiencing delays or denials in firearms purchases because of a past misdemeanor charge or because an ineligible person has a similar name.

When you apply for the VAF, NICS personnel will research your case and assign you a Unique Personal Identification Number (UPIN) if you have no firearms prohibitions. For future firearms transactions, you will provide your UPIN for your background check. You will still have to undergo a complete background check to buy a firearm, but the UPIN will help to confirm your identity.

The VAF process can take several months.

You may also apply for the VAF at the same time you submit a firearm-related challenge.

The NICS Section is currently processing Voluntary Appeal File (VAF) cases received in July 2019.

How to Apply for the VAF

A VAF application and fingerprint form can be obtained online (below) or by emailing a request to

You can also mail a request to:

FBI CJIS Division
NICS Section
NICS  Functional Support  Unit, Module D-1
P.O. Box 4278
Clarksburg, WV 26302-4278

Help with VAF/UPINs

For help with VAF and UPINs, including forgotten UPINs, contact or via mail at the address above.

Always include your complete name, mailing address, and phone number when contacting NICS for help. Lost UPINs should be reported immediately.

You can change your mailing address online or at the above mailing address. Include your full name, old address, new address, and your NICS Transaction Number (NTN) or State Transaction Number (STN). (Whether you receive an NTN or an STN depends on your state.) If you wish to cancel your VAF application, you must submit your cancellation in writing. 

Submitting Your Fingerprints with the VAF Application

You are required to submit your fingerprints as part of your VAF application. Most local police departments and sheriff’s offices can assist with fingerprints, though you may have to pay a fingerprint fee.

You can use the same fingerprint card you submitted with your firearm-related challenge. VAF accepts electronic scanned fingerprint images, but you must request your fingerprint agency print you a copy of those images. Submit the copy with your VAF application. 

If your fingerprint card is rejected, you will receive a response letter with instructions on re-submitting.

The agency rolling your fingerprints must include the following on your fingerprint card:

  • agency name and address
  • agency phone number
  • legible signature of the official taking the fingerprints
  • Originating Agency Identifier Number, if applicable.