NICS Information Sheet

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (Brady Act) of 1993, Public Law 103-159, required that the U.S. Attorney General establish the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) for Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to contact by telephone, or other electronic means, for information to be supplied immediately on whether the transfer of a firearm would be in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 922 (g) or (n) or state law. Through a cooperative effort with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and local and state law enforcement agencies, the FBI developed the NICS, which became operational on November 30, 1998.

When an FFL initiates a NICS background check, a name (and limited descriptor) search is conducted to identify any matching records in three nationally held databases. These databases are:

  • The Interstate Identification Index (III), which contains an expansive number of criminal history records;
  • The National Crime Information Center (NCIC), which contains information on wanted persons, protection orders, deported felons and others; and
  • The NICS Index, which contains records, contributed by local, state, and federal agencies, pertaining to individuals federally prohibited the transfer of a firearm.

Additionally, a fourth search will be conducted via the applicable databases of the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on all non-U.S. citizens.

What Is a Delay Response?

When conducting a firearm background check, if the NICS returns a valid match to potentially prohibiting record information maintained in any of the aforementioned databases, the NICS Legal Instruments Examiner (NICS Examiner) will evaluate the record information and attempt to provide the FFL with a definitive response of either proceed or deny while the FFL is still on the telephone. However, in many instances, records are incomplete and/or lack final status (such as conviction, dismissal, crime classification level, etc.). In these instances, the NICS Examiner will advise the FFL that the transaction has been placed in a “delay” status pending further research and conclude the initial call. A delay response does not mean that an individual is denied the transfer of a firearm. A delay response requires that a NICS Examiner conduct additional research and evaluation of the matched records by contacting local, state, and/or federal law enforcement agencies in an effort to obtain the information needed to complete the record(s) and determine if the information contained therein is disqualifying pursuant to the Brady Act. In such cases, the Brady Act allows up to three business days to attempt to obtain the missing or incomplete information. If the information needed cannot be obtained prior to the expiration of three business days and the NICS is unable to provide either a proceed or a deny response, it is the FFL’s option to legally transfer the firearm.

What Is a Denial Response?

A denial response indicates that either the prospective firearm transferee or another individual with a similar name and/or similar descriptive features has been matched with one or more of the following federally prohibitive criteria:

  • Persons convicted of/under indictment (or information) for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, whether or not sentence was imposed. This includes misdemeanor offenses with a potential term of imprisonment in excess of two years, whether or not sentence was imposed;
  • Persons who are fugitives from justice (the subject of an active felony or misdemeanor warrant);
  • An unlawful user and/or an addict of any controlled substance;
  • Persons adjudicated as a mental defective or involuntarily committed to a mental institution or incompetent to handle their own affairs;
  • An alien illegally/unlawfully in the United States;
  • Persons dishonorably discharged from the United States Armed Forces;
  • A renouncer of U.S. citizenship;
  • The subject of a protective order; and
  • Persons convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

A denial response may also indicate a match to prohibitive criteria based on a state law.

As information is continually added or deleted from the databases searched during the NICS background check process and as a result of ongoing efforts to maintain current records, the results of NICS background checks can change with each query of the system. Voluntarily providing additional descriptive information, such as an individual’s Social Security number, could benefit a prospective firearm transferee by helping to distinguish him/her from another person with a similar name (or similar descriptive features) who may be the subject of disqualifying records.

If an individual has been denied the transfer of a firearm and wishes to appeal the denial decision, a written request must be forwarded to the following address:

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Criminal Justice Information Services Division
NICS Section
Appeal Services Team, Module A-1
Post Office Box 4278
Clarksburg, WV 26302-4278

The NICS Section will provide, by written response, the reason for the denial within five business days after receiving the request.

Revised November 2010