National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, the Brady Act for short, required the U.S. Attorney General to establish a National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) that firearm dealers could contact by telephone or other electronic means for information on whether a firearm transfer violates federal or state law.

Through a cooperative effort with agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Department of Justice, in addition to local and state law enforcement agencies, the FBI developed the NICS, which became operational on November 30, 1998.

The NICS was designed to immediately respond to background check inquiries for prospective firearm transferees. When a firearm dealer initiates a NICS background check, a name and descriptor search is conducted to determine whether the potential purchaser has any matching records in these three nationally held databases.

Interstate Identification Index (III): Criminal history records.

National Crime Information Center (NCIC): A computerized database of documented information consisting of 18 files: seven property files (boats, guns, license plates, securities, vehicles, and vehicle and boat parts) and 11 person files (convicted sex offender registry, foreign fugitives, identity theft data, immigration violators, missing persons, protection orders, supervised release, unidentified persons, individuals in U.S. Secret Service protective custody, violent gangs and terrorist organizations, and wanted persons).

NICS Index: Records contributed by local, state, and federal agencies pertaining to individuals federally prohibited the transfer of a firearm, such as users of illegal drugs, those with disqualifying mental health histories, illegal aliens, persons dishonorably discharged from the military, and individuals who have renounced their U.S. citizenship.

Also, a fourth search, via the applicable databases of the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), may be required pursuant to federal law.

In the majority of cases, background check results determine subject eligibility minutes after data is entered into the NICS. A much smaller percentage of inquiries are delayed due to missing or incomplete information.

Above excerpted from FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Section, NICS Operations 2005, January 2006