Background checks are done by firearms dealers when transferring firearms (selling or trading). These background checks are completed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System or NICS, prior to the transfer of a firearm from an FFL dealer to a non-dealer. When the prospective purchaser/transferee’s information is given to NICS, the system will check the applicant against at least three different databases containing various types of records. Applicants are checked against the records maintained by the Interstate Identification Index (III) which contains criminal history records, the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) which contains records including warrants and protective orders, as well as the NICS Index which contains records of individuals who are prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms under either federal or state law. In addition, if the applicant is not a United States Citizen, the application is processed for an Immigration Alien Query (IAQ) through the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division.
NICS responses to background checks come in three basic forms: proceed, delay, or deny. The “proceed” response allows for the transfer to be completed. The “delay” response means that the transfer may not legally proceed. If the dealer receives a response of “delay,” NICS has three business days to research the applicant further. If the dealer has not received a notice that the transfer is denied after the three business days, then the transfer may proceed. “Deny” means the transfer does not take place; a purchaser’s (transferee’s) options after a “deny” are discussed below.