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Opportunities to Close Loopholes in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2002
85 pages
This report provides information on States' firearms-related laws and procedures that involve the restoration of gun ownership rights, permits for carrying concealed firearms, and convictions for domestic violence.
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which is used by the FBI and States to perform presale firearms background checks, relies largely on searching State criminal history records to prevent the sale of firearms to prohibited persons. States' firearms-related laws and procedures may affect how such records are used by NICS in preventing the sale of firearms to persons who are ineligible under applicable Federal and State law. This study obtained overview information from Federal agencies with firearms-related research experience and/or law enforcement responsibilities. For more detailed analyses, the study focused on six States: California, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Texas, and Utah. These States were selected to illustrate a variety of applicable State laws and procedures. The study was conducted between June 2001 and May 2002 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. Each of the six States visited had at least one mechanism by which individuals who were ineligible to possess firearms because of a criminal conviction could have those rights restored. Typically, individuals must petition the State or a county agency for relief, but some States automatically restore certain firearms rights lost after completion of a sentence. On the basis of a review of limited data that were available from the selected States, the study found that few persons who had their gun ownership rights restored were convicted of subsequent crimes. The study concluded that allowing firearms sales to proceed after three business days when the outcome of the NICS check is unresolved contributes to the difficulty of preventing domestic violence offenders from purchasing firearms. If Federal law allowed more than 3 days, up to 30 days, for example, to research these types of delayed NICS background checks, the number of firearm-retrieval actions during the first 3 years of NICS operations could have been reduced by over 50 percent. In 26 States, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has determined that a concealed carry permit may exempt the permit holder from a NICS background check when purchasing a firearm. It is important that permit applicants be carefully screened and permit holders monitored to ensure they are eligible to possess firearms. The six states visited screened permit applicants by using Federal and State criminal databases, monitored permit holders to ensure continued eligibility by using automated and manual processes, and revoked permits when holders became ineligible to carry a concealed firearm. 11 tables and appended detailed findings and responses from relevant agencies