National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)

Firearm Sale

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, is all about saving lives and protecting people from harm—by not letting guns fall into the wrong hands. It also ensures the timely transfer of firearms to eligible gun buyers. 

Mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 and launched by the FBI on November 30, 1998, NICS is used by Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms. Before ringing up the sale, cashiers call in a check to the FBI or to other designated agencies to ensure that each customer does not have a criminal record or isn’t otherwise ineligible to make a purchase. More than 230 million such checks have been made, leading to more than 1.3 million denials.

NICS is located at the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg, West Virginia. It provides full service to FFLs in 30 states, five U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. Upon completion of the required Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Form 4473, FFLs contact the NICS Section via a toll-free telephone number or electronically on the Internet through the NICS E-Check System to request a background check with the descriptive information provided on the ATF Form 4473. NICS is customarily available 17 hours a day, seven days a week, including holidays (except for Christmas). Please be advised that calls may be monitored and recorded for any authorized purpose.



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