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Gun Control: Implementation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 2000
95 pages
This report is the U.S. General Accounting Office's response to U.S. Senator Craig Thomas' request for information on a wide variety of topics related to the permanent provisions (Phase II) of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (Brady Act).
On November 30, 1998, the Brady Act's permanent provisions went into effect with implementation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Managed by the FBI, this computerized system is used to make presale background checks for purchases from Federal firearms licensees (FFL) of all firearms, not just handguns. Under NICS, Congress expected that most background checks would be performed instantly, without a waiting period. Also, under Phase II of the Brady Act implementation, if law enforcement is unable to complete the background check within 3 business days, the sale is allowed to proceed by default. This report provides an overview of the time that it takes the FBI to conduct background checks under NICS and summarizes the information collected on the following four topics: statistics on background checks, denials, and appeals; enforcement actions; NICS operations; and pawnshop issues. FBI data show that for the majority (approximately 72 percent as of November 30, 1999) of firearm purchase background checks conducted by the FBI, NICS provided approval responses within 30 seconds after the purchaser's identifying information was keyed into the system. The remaining 28 percent of the background checks had delayed responses. From a sample of delayed responses handled by an ad hoc selection of examiners, the FBI concluded that most of these responses (80 percent) were resolved within 2 hours or less and that the remainder (20 percent) required several hours or days to resolve. 15 tables, 6 figures, and appended supplementary information, including study objectives, scope, and methodology