The Federal Bureau of Investigation's gun background check is celebrating its 15th anniversary. On Nov. 30, 1998, the FBI began using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, also known as NICS, which was created as a result of the 1993 Brady Act that requires background checks on people buying guns or obtaining them through other means.
The FBI's goal with creating NICS was to disqualify transfers of firearms to ineligible people while ensuring timely transactions for eligible people, according to the FBI. Since it began in 1993, NICS has processed more than 177 million background checks requested by gun sellers or federal firearms licensees.
The NICS system is located at the Bureau's Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division in Clarksburg. The system processes more than 10,000 automated checks an hour on its busiest days across 94 million records in FBI criminal databases, which includes the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), Interstate Identification Index (III), and the NICS index of 11 million people who are prohibited from owning firearms. To date, NICS database queries have resulted in 1,065,090 firearm purchase denials, with 88,479 in 2012 alone, according to the FBI. People typically denied for firearm purchases include those with criminal convictions, domestic violence convictions, a drug history, or fugitives.
"The statistics for denials can stand on their own with regards to how well the system works in keeping firearms out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them," said Steve Fischer, NICS spokesman at CJIS. NICS routinely processes more than 80,000 requests a day. The highest volume of background checks usually occurs on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.
While most NICS checks return an immediate decision to allow or deny a gun purchase, about eight percent are delayed due to incomplete criminal history records, according to the FBI. By law, NICS must make a determination within three days to authorize or deny a transaction. During those three days, the NICS research staff searches for the information needed to update incomplete records. In 2012, researchers were able to complete more than 34,000 incomplete criminal history records shared with state agencies.
For people whose gun purchases are approved, those records are required by law to be purged within 24 hours. If a transaction is denied, NICS has an appeal process in place.
NICS employs nearly 500 people and operates 17 hours each day, from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m and is open 364 days a year, closing only for Christmas.