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The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is a point-of-sale system for determining eligibility to purchase a firearm in the United States of America. Federal Firearms License (FFL) holders are generally required by law to use the NICS to determine if it is legal to sell a firearm to a prospective purchaser. Mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 and launched by the FBI on November 30, 1998, NICS determines if the buyer is prohibited from buying a firearm under the Gun Control Act of 1968. It is linked to the National Crime Information Center and the Interstate Identification Index among other databases maintained by the FBI.
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is applicable to sales from federally licensed dealers. Sales of firearms by private sellers are allowed to proceed without a background check unless required by state law. These regulations remain in place at gun shows, where no special leniency is granted to licensed sellers, and no additional requirements are placed upon private sellers.
NICS is accessed by an FFL, on the firearm buyer's behalf, by phone or computer. When contacted by phone, the communication is either with an FBI/NICS Examiner, who directly receives the information submitted by the FFL, or by proxy through a Call Center representative, who forwards the information electronically to the NICS. Whether an Examiner or a Call Center representative is contacted depends on the state in which the sale is conducted. When using a computer, an FFL representative can submit the buyer's information using the E-Check system which is a web interface to the NICS. An FFL can be an individual or an organization such as a retail store. An organization registered as an FFL minimizes the overhead involved in managing identification for multiple individuals who are employed by the organization.
By law, an FFL must receive a response from the NICS within 3 days or the firearm sale can proceed, although the FFL seller is not required to do so. If, after 3 days, the sale is completed and later it is determined the buyer should not have received the firearm, then the firearm must be retrieved.
If a buyer believes that the denial is erroneous based on a match to a record returned by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the buyer may appeal the decision, by either challenging the accuracy of the record used in the evaluation of the denial or claiming that the record used as basis for the denial is invalid or does not pertain to the buyer. The provisions for appeals are outlined in the NICS Regulations at Title 28, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 25.10, and Subsection 103 (f) and (g) and Section 104 of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993.
Sections 922(g) and (n) of the Gun Control Act prohibits certain persons from shipping or transporting any firearm in interstate or foreign commerce, or receiving any firearm which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce, or possessing any firearm in or affecting commerce. These prohibitions apply to any person who:
In addition to local, state, tribal, and federal agencies voluntarily contributing information to the NICS Index, the NICS Section receives telephone calls from mental health institutions, psychiatrists, police departments, and family members requesting placement of individuals into the NICS Index. Frequently, these are emergency situations and require immediate attention. Any documentation justifying a valid entry into the NICS Index must be available to the originating agencies.