Brady Gun Law: What a Background Check Entails

By Brett Snider, Esq. on February 25, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Because of the Brady gun law, which went into effect 20 years ago this week, background checks are typically necessary for a civilian to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer.

Although some states will have different procedures with regard to gun background checks, the NICS system is the standard in all states and is often administered by the FBI.

What does an NICS background check entail?

What Is NICS?

While "NCIS" is a thrilling TV program about crimes in the Navy, NICS stands for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System -- the standard for background checks under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.

The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives have pooled their resources to develop the NICS. According to the FBI, NICS provides an "almost immediate response" to background check inquiries by licensed gun retailers -- in as little as 30 seconds for most inquiries.

Depending on the state of purchase, licensed gun sellers will either contact NICS directly or make a request to the state, which will serve as the point of contact for the NICS background check.

If a potential match appears from an NICS check, a gun retailer may be told to either delay or deny a sale. If a licensed firearm retailer is told to delay the sale, the NICS examiner will inform the seller of a date three business days from that time. If no official response has been given within that date, it is up to the individual seller to decide whether to sell the firearm.

Licensed gun dealers are required to record the results of the NICS check for every sale.

What Appears on a NICS Check?

Any number of red flags may come up in an NICS background check, which would cause a gun sale to be rejected. Some common red flags include:

  • Felony convictions (or even indictments),
  • Active warrants,
  • Drug convictions or failed drug tests,
  • Mental incompetency or insanity findings,
  • Mental health evaluations (called "5150" holds in California),
  • Illegal aliens or non-immigrant visas,
  • Military dishonorable discharges,
  • Restraining orders, and
  • Domestic violence convictions.

If any one of these arise during an NICS check, a seller will likely be told to deny a gun sale. Buyers denied because of NICS can appeal the determination using either the State Transaction Number (STN) or NICS Transaction Number (NTN).

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