The FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is the federal database, maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), through which background checks are done by federally licensed firearms dealers (FFLs). All FFLs are required to conduct a NICS check on any prospective firearms buyer. The system was started by the Brady Bill in 1993. Since then, it has stopped over 600,000 prohibited purchasers from buying guns from FFLs.
When aggregated, NICS checks offer a view of gun sales across the country and on a state by state basis, and in doing so, serves as a rough proxy for gun sales volume.1
In September 2008, Mayors Against Illegal Guns requested NICS data from the FBI. That request was driven by three questions:
- How many NICS background checks are conducted?
- How quickly are background checks resolved and how often do background checks result in rejections or incomplete results?
- How many people are included in the prohibited persons file and how many are included for mental health reasons?
In their response to the coalition, the FBI addressed a majority of these questions and provided data that give insights into the scope of gun sales and effectiveness of background checks in preventing criminal access to guns among all 50 states over the last eight years.
View the letter request from Mayors Against Illegal Guns and FBI's response.
Some highlights from the NICS data provided by the FBI include:
NICS checks prevent tens of thousands of attempted criminal gun purchases every year:
Most NICS checks are resolved immediately:
- NICS prevents over 80,000 illegal purchases per year:
- Background checks denied prohibited persons from getting guns 87,474 times in 2007 (the last full year).
- There are over 5.4 million names of prohibited
persons in NICS - not counting felons and others who are checked automatically
because NICS is linked to III and NCIC.
- Less than one percent of NICS checks (0.8%) result in denials.
There is a problem with "default proceeds," or the NICS checks that are left unresolved even after 3 business days:
- 92% of checks are resolved "immediately," which as
defined by the Department of Justice as during the time of the phone call with
- 97% of checks are resolved within the three-business day limit under the Brady Law.
Ever since the tragedy of Virginia Tech, there have been efforts to improve mental health record reporting in the NICS database. This includes the NICS Improvement Act of 2007. This data reveals that many states are still not providing NICS with the necessary mental health records.
- Under current federal law, when a NICS check remains
unresolved after three days, a gun sale may proceed. These so called "default
proceed" sales that are later resolved are connected with prohibited
purchasers at rates far above checks that are resolved within three days:
default proceeds are about eight times more likely to involve a prohibited purchaser than other transfers.
- There are at least 584,985 names in NICS's database
of people prohibited based on mental illness:
- 98% of those names come from only 7 states
(California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia) plus
- 87% are from California, Virginia, Michigan or
- Fourteen states have not provided any: Arkansas,
Delaware, Idaho, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey,
New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and West