Background Check National Instant Criminal Background Check

How Does the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Work?

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The National Instant Criminal Background Check System was established by the Brady Act in 1993 but was officially launched and operated by the FBI in 1998. It was developed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Explosives (ATF), state, and local law enforcement agencies.

This is a national name check or background check conducted on firearm buyers to determine if they’re legally eligible or prohibited to own a firearm. The Federal Firearm Licensee (FFL) which includes gun dealers, pawnshop owners, or gun shop owners, must run a NICS on anyone that wants to buy a gun from them.

Only FFL holders have access and can retain NICS records. A total of 36 states rely on the FBI as a prime point of contact to NICS, while the remaining states have agencies representing NICS or agencies that share the responsibilities with the FBI.

This is to ensure that the prospective buyer doesn’t have a criminal record and wouldn’t use the firearm to harm others. The FBI runs the name through three databases, the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the Interstate Identification Index (III), and the NICS Index.

How does the process work?

  1. When an FFL dealer gets a buyer that wants to purchase a firearm, they need to have them fill out the ATF Form 4473, which is a firearms transaction record. You can purchase multiple firearms in one transaction with the same NICS check. But you’ll need to fill out a form and be checked per each firearm transaction.
  2. The FFL dealer will contact the NICS electronically or by phone and relay the info of the buyer. Only the FFL can contact the NICS about running a name check.
  3. The FBI or NICS runs a background check on the buyer by checking multiple databases. Results can be determined within a few minutes or a few days. If the name is cleared and there are no matches in the databases, NICS informs the FFL to proceed with the transaction. However, if the name does have a match, further investigations are needed. If the FBI doesn’t get back to the FFL with approval or denial within 3 business days, they are allowed to proceed with the sale. If a decision is reached that the buyer is prohibited, the FBI contacts the ATF to retrieve the firearm from the buyer.

Why would someone receive a NICS denial?

A delayed response from NICS means that they’re investigating with federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies because your name matched with info in their databases. A denied status means you’re prohibited to purchase a firearm and this can be due to the following reasons:

  • You were convicted of a crime and were sentenced to more than 1 year in prison

  • You’re a fugitive from the law – sentenced for prison but are on the run

  • You’ve been convicted with one or multiple arrests for the use or possession of controlled substances within the past 5 years.

  • You’re an illegal immigrant in the United States.

  • You’ve renounced your United States citizenship.

  • You were dishonorably discharged from the United States Army.

  • You have a protective order or restraining order against a partner or child.

  • You’ve been convicted of a misdemeanor using physical violence or a weapon on a defendant that is a spouse, relative, ex-spouse, child, etc.

For more reasons on why you’ve received a NICS denial, head to the NICS Services page.

How to apply for a firearm appeal?

If you think you’ve been wrongly denied a firearm, you can challenge the decision or apply for an appeal. Through this step, you can find out why you were denied and challenge the denial online.

Challenging your firearm-related denial online:

An appeal can only be applied if you’ve received a denial, it cannot be applied if the response is delayed. Before submitting your appeal, you’ll need the NICS Transaction Number (NTN) or the State Transaction Number (STN). You can get this number from the FFL that you were purchasing from. You can submit supporting documents electronically with your application that show correct and updated info including court orders, release forms, etc. You’ll also need to submit a fingerprint card to confirm your identity as the same person in the NICS check that was done.

Challenging your fire-arm related denial by mail:

You can also submit the appeal by mail by sending the email confirmation, the NTN/ STN, and a fingerprint card to the below address: 

FBI CJIS Division



1000 Custer Hollow Road

Clarksburg, WV 26306

If you need any assistance with submitting your fire-arm challenge, you can call (304) 625-5590 or email identity@fbi.gov.

Can a NICS check be used for employment?

It is unauthorized for an FFL to use a NICS check for employment purposes or other types of checks. It can only be used for a fire-arm sale transaction. An employment background check is a comprehensive and thorough process that cannot be taken lightly.

Risks like lawsuits, financial losses, workplace danger, and more, can come from negligent hiring and not running the proper background checks.

And so, it is recommended to run background checks like a criminal background check, employment verification, drug & alcohol testing, and other checks on a prospective candidate before hiring.

Please visit us at CertifixLiveScan.com to find your nearest location, or give us a call at (800) 710-1934, or email us at support@certifixlivescan.com.

Read more about: What are the Safest Ways to Complete Your Live Scan during the Covid-19 Pandemic?

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • How does Live Scan work?

    The requesting agency provides the applicant with a Request For Live Scan Service Form.  

    The applicant then takes the form along with proper identification to the nearest live scan location to get fingerprinted via live scan.  

    This is then sent to the DOJ, FBI, or both to be processed. 

    The DOJ then sends the results to the requesting agency only.

  • How can I find my criminal background for personal use?

    You can print out a Record Review Live Scan Form, take it to the nearest live scan location, and the results would be sent to your address, Read More.

  • How far back does a live scan background check go?

    The live scan results will contain your entire criminal history. 

    This will not include expungements.

  • What if the agency didn't get the FBI results or background check?

    1. Ask if they submit a California live scan

    2. If yes, they have to contact the Department of Justice. 

    3. They can check on the status on the DOJ Hotline (916) 227-4557 and their applicant agency can send an email to “appagencyquestions@doj.ca.gov” for more information. They should not include any personal information such as date of birth or social security number.  They need to include the ORI #, ATI #, and the first and last name. 

    4. There isn’t a separate email contact for the FBI for these transactions.

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