National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)

National Instant Criminal Background Check System - NICS

National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)

Mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 and launched by the FBI on November 30, 1998, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is used by Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms or explosives. Before ringing up the sale, cashiers call in a check to the FBI or to other designated agencies to ensure that each customer does not have a criminal record or isn’t otherwise ineligible to make a purchase.

Background Check Process for Purchasing a Firearm

When a person tries to buy a firearm, the seller, known as a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL), contacts NICS electronically or by phone. The prospective buyer fills out the ATF form, and the FFL relays that information to the NICS. The NICS staff performs a background check on the buyer. That background check verifies the buyer does not have a criminal record or isn’t otherwise ineligible to purchase or own a firearm.

NICS E-Check

The NICS E-Check system enables FFLs to initiate an unassisted NICS background check for firearm transfers via the Internet.

NICS E-Check Video Transcript

In 1993, the Brady Act was signed into law, requiring Federal Firearms Licenses or FFLs to initiate background checks on prospective firearms recipients.

As a permanent provision and to facilitate the rapid, legal transfer of a firearm, the United States Attorney General was charged with establishing the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or the NICS.

In 2002, the NICS advanced this process beyond the telephone when the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division introduced NICS E-Check. Originally, NICS E-Check packed several benefits such as added customer protection against identity theft because you don’t have to divulge their personal identifying information over the telephone or in ear shot of other customers. 24/7 access to NICS background check results, the ability to print completed search requests, great for record keeping, and being prepared for an audit, the immediate notification of any NICS operational status changes, the ability to provide feedback, and no hold times for the call center or while waiting for transaction reviews.

Even during times of unprecedented volume like those experienced in November and December (2012), the NICS E-Check maintained its robust performance, consistently providing users with an average response time of two minutes or less.

The NICS tirelessly strives to enhance customer service, and this philosophy was never more evident than when the FBI proudly unveiled NICS E-Check 2.0 on July 16, 2013. In addition to all the benefits you’ve come to know, E-Check 2.0 has unleashed a few more powerful game changers designed to make your experience exceedingly better. Now, 2.0 gives the FFL administrative controls for the creation and modification of employee E-Check accounts, and digital certificates are a thing of the past. 2.0 users can log into the system from any computer with web access by simply setting up the user name and password just like any other secure account on the Internet.

The FBI is proud to provide this level of service to the FFL community, and the NICS E-Check 2.0 certainly exemplifies that commitment. FFLs are strongly encouraged to register with E-Check, and don’t forget even as a registered E-Check user, you can still use the telephone to reach one of our contracted call centers.

Think about it, on average the NICS E-Check provides responses to its users in under two minutes. So in the time it took to watch this announcement, you could have received your results. Don’t delay, become a NICS E-Check user today, because it’s nice to have choices.

For registration information, please follow these steps to access the E-Check User Guide: Go to:, Select: “Access the FBI NICS E-Check help pages”, Select: “User Guide (pdf)”.