NICS Process in Motion Video

In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed The Gun Control Act in response to the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert F. Kennedy.

Video Transcript

In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed The Gun Control Act in response to the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert F. Kennedy.

In 1993, as an amendment to The Gun Control Act, President Clinton signed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, otherwise known as the Brady Act, into law. It was named after James Brady, who suffered a near fatal head injury during the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan.

As a result, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or the NICS, was established to determine whether or not the transfer of a firearm would violate state or federal law.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation implemented the NICS on November 30, 1998.

Located in Clarksburg, West Virginia as a part of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, the NICS Section is a national center that performs background checks on individuals attempting to purchase a firearm.

Except in specific situations, all Federal Firearms Licensees must conduct a NICS background check prior to transferring any firearm.

The NICS Section is committed to providing great customer service, and to help our customers better understand the process this animated flowchart was developed. 

The process begins when a potential customer chooses a firearm and completes an ATF Form 4473.

Accuracy is essential, because the NICS background checks are name-based and dependent upon descriptive information entered on the form.

The FFL will submit the transaction, either by phone through one of three contracted call centers or via the Internet by logging onto the NICS E-Check website. 

The customer’s identifying information will be “Processing,” or compared to millions of records, stored in three nationally held databases:

The Interstate Identification Index, or III, which holds criminal history records.
The National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, which holds various records, such as warrants and protection orders.
And, the NICS Index, which holds records of individuals who are known to be prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms based on either state or federal law. For example, those individuals with dishonorable discharges or who are currently under indictment for a disqualifying arrest.
If the customer is not a U.S. citizen, the submission will undergo an “Immigration Alien Query,” or IAQ, through the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE.

Every transaction receives a NICS Transaction Number or NTN. The NTN will be used to track the customer’s background check.

Once the database search is complete, the FFL will receive one of the following responses:

“Proceed or Transfer.” A “Proceed” response means the customer’s submission did not produce a “Hit” in any of the databases.
In some cases, the customer’s information may produce a “Hit,” which means there are matching, or closely matching, descriptors in one or more databases. Any “Hit” or “Delay” will prompt a transfer of the call and transaction to the NICS Section for additional review by an FBI employee. 
Upon completion of this review, the FFL will be notified of the customer’s status, up to this point: a “Proceed,” a “Delay,” or a “Deny.”

This time, a “Proceed” indicates that although the customer’s submission did, in fact, “Hit” in one or more of the databases, the descriptive data was not a valid match to that of the customer.

Or, there was a possible match. But, it contained no federal or state prohibiting information.

If, the customer’s submission ends up in a “Delay” status, it means that the “Hit” produced a possible or valid match in one or more databases, and more research will be required to determine if any federal or state prohibitors apply.

When a transaction is delayed and a final status decision cannot be rendered within the allotted three-business day time frame, and no other restrictions exist, the FFL is legally permitted to transfer the firearm at their discretion. 

A “Deny” status, on the other hand, indicates that the customer’s submission not only “Hit” in one or more of the databases, but this time did produce a valid match, that also included federal or state prohibitors, ultimately disqualifying them from purchasing or possessing a firearm.

Before the call concludes, the FFL will receive a NICS Transaction Number or NTN, an alphanumeric number uniquely generated for each NICS inquiry which will be of great assistance to both the customer and the FFL in tracking their specific background check.

What can the NICS Section do for customers who continuously encounter extended delays or are denied?

The FFL should provide the customer a NICS Resolution Card denoting their NICS transaction number.

This NICS Resolution Card will define the most appropriate course of action, depending on the customer’s particular circumstance.

Customers are encouraged to initiate the correct type of inquiry through the NICS website, where they will encounter an improved, user friendly, and streamlined experience.

Customers, who receive continuous or extended delays, always have the option of submitting an application to the NICS Voluntary Appeal File Database, or VAF.

The VAF is a separate database maintained for the convenience of the customers, and serves to minimize future denials and/or extended delays by allowing the NICS Section to retain clarifying documentation.

Good candidates for this service are: victims of identity theft and/or those not identical by fingerprint comparison to a state or FBI record, persons with an ATF “Relief from Disabilities,” and those whose records cannot be updated.

What about a denied response?

In this scenario, customers have the right to appeal this decision if they feel it was rendered in error or they wish to know the reason for denial.

All appeals must be submitted in writing, via the NICS appeal website or via the United Postal Services.

If the customer resides in a state where the check was conducted through a state agency instead of the FBI, it is recommended they appeal to their denying agency first. If the customer is dissatisfied or the matter remains unresolved, the customer’s may appeal to the FBI.

If the customer (now the appellant) appeals, they will receive one of two responses: overturned or sustained.

If a “Deny” is “Oveturned,” the FFL may proceed with the sale of the firearm, as long as the NTN has not expired. An NTN is valid for 30 days from the date of initiation.

If the customer’s NTN has expired, the FFL must initiate a new NICS background check.

This does not guarantee a proceed status. A “Delay” or “Deny” status may still be rendered if new or other potentially prohibiting information exists.

If the Appellant’s “Deny” is “Sustained,” it indicates that extensive research was conducted, in an effort to rectify any and all grievances, but the original deny decision is being upheld.

Well that’s about it!

We are excited that we can share the overall NICS process with you in such a unique and entertaining way!


To better understand each and every step of the NICS Process we encourage you to visit our website!

Every transaction is unique. This video is intended to provide a general overview of how an average NICS transaction is handled and does not capture every scenario a purchaser could experience.

Thank you!

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