The Evolution of the FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System

The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) recently turned fifteen. Has the work of NICS made out country a safer one?

The NICS, originally created in 1998, was formed out of a provision of the 1993 Brady Act, which requires background checks on any persons purchasing or receiving firearms. The goals of the NICS were to disqualify the transfer of firearms to any ineligible individuals and to ensure that eligible individuals received their firearms in a timely fashion.

The NICS has accomplished a number of goals in its fifteen years, including:

  • The NICS has processed more than 177 million background checks.
  • On a busy day, the NICS processed more than 10,000 automated checks by checking more than 94 million records in FBI criminal databases.
  • Nine out of 10 background checks are instantaneous.
  • Since its creation, the NICS has rejected nearly 1.1 million applications, with nearly 90,000 in 2012 alone.
  • The most common reasons for a firearms license rejection are: domestic violence, prior criminal convictions, drug history, and fugitive status.
  • There are almost 47,000 licensed gun sellers in the United States; NICS conducts background checks in 37 states, while 13 states perform their own background checks with NICS data.
  • Since its creation, the NICS has processed more than 700,000 explosives background checks; nearly 149,000 were processed in 2012 alone.

Steve Fischer, a spokesman for the NICS, said that the “statistics for denials” clearly show “how well the system works in keeping firearms out of the hands” of individuals who should not have access to them.

There are nearly 500 employees with the NICS, who can process about 80,000 requests each day, with the highest number of checks usually performed between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The highest volume day last year was on December 21, when more than 170,000 requests were made.


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