To buy a firearm in the United States, you must complete a background check through the National Instant Check System. Most background checks take a few minutes unless information in the database disqualifies you from owning a firearm. When this happens, a thorough investigation is conducted to determine why you cannot purchase a firearm.
National Instant Check System
The National Instant Check System (or NICS), created in 1998, enables gun dealers and state point-of-contact offices to run background checks on potential customers to determine if they are allowed to purchase a firearm. This FBI monitors this system. Most background checks can be completed within minutes unless further investigation is necessary. Information contained within the database includes prior criminal records, information from the U.S. Department of Defense and information from the U.S. State Department. When purchasing multiple firearms on the same day, only one background check will be conducted. To purchase firearms on different days, you must undergo multiple background checks for each firearm.
Gun dealers contact the NICS database directly and speak with an operator, who runs the background check. You will be required to fill out Part A of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm's (or BATF) form 4473 so you can be identified correctly in the database. If you have a common name, you may be asked to provide your Social Security number for verification. This is voluntary, but it can help speed up the process. The gun dealer will be given a verification number once you have been cleared to purchase the firearm. If additional information needs to be verified, NICS has up three days to complete the background check. If you have not been cleared to purchase a firearm, the gun dealer will be told to delay the purchase until a further investigation has been conducted.
Point of Contact
Some states have established point-of-contact offices that contact the NICS database using the information provided by the gun dealer. To complete the sale, fill out Part B of BATF form 4473. You may need to fill out additional state forms to complete your purchase. Some states have additional waiting periods for those purchasing a firearm. Waiting periods are usually between five to seven days. NICS background checks for the firearm you want to purchase are valid for up to 30 days.
For handgun transfers, gun dealers are required to contact the point-of-contact office, which forwards the information to the NICS so it can be entered into the database. A background check will be conducted and if you are cleared, you can take possession of the firearm and title. The point-of-contact office will give a NICS transfer number to the gun dealer so the sale can be completed.