Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2008, US Department of Justice

Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2008

Summary findings
From the inception of the Brady Act on March 1, 1994, through December 31, 2008, over 97 million applications for firearm transfers or permits were subject to background checks. Nearly 1.8 million applications were denied. (Table 1)
In 2008, 1.5% of the 9.9 million applications for firearm transfers or permits were denied by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) (71,000) or by state and local agencies (76,000). The denial rate for applications checked by the FBI (1.2%) was lower than the rate for checks by state and local agencies (1.9%). (Table 2)
Among all state agencies, denial rates for instant check systems ranged from nearly 5% to less than 1%. (Table 3a)
A felony conviction or indictment was the most common reason for a denial by a state (46%), a local agency (24%), or the FBI (56%) in 2008. (Table 4)
A domestic violence misdemeanor conviction or restraining order was the second most common reason for denial by a state (14%) or local agency (17%) in 2008. (Table 4)
Among all agencies conducting background checks, 48% of applications were denied due to reasons other than a felony conviction in 2008. (Table 5)
In 2008 nearly 28,000 denials were appealed (19% of denials) and nearly 11,000 appeals resulted in reversal of the denial (39% of appeals). (Table 6)
According to state and local checking agencies that reported arrests, an estimated 1,299 persons were arrested in 2008 for an outstanding warrant or submission of false information on an application. (Table 7)
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) field offices investigated 5,573 National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) denials that were referred by the FBI in 2008. (Table 8)
Records of persons ineligible to possess a firearm due to a mental health commitment or adjudication increased 25% in the NICS Index during 2008; overall, the number of records in the index increased 7%. (Table 9)
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The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 (Pub. L. No. 103-159, 107 Stat. 1536 (1993), codified as amended at 18 U.S.C. Section 921 et seq.) mandates a criminal history background check on any person who attempts to purchase a firearm from a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL). The permanent provisions of the Brady Act established the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which is accessed by the FBI or a state point of contact (POC) prior to transferring a firearm. The NICS is a system comprising data on persons who are prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm under the Brady Act or under state law.

The Brady Act prohibits transfer of a firearm to a person who —

is under indictment for, or has been convicted of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than 1 year
is a fugitive from justice
is an unlawful user of, or addicted to, a controlled substance
has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution
is an illegal alien or has been admitted to the U.S. under a nonimmigrant visa
was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces
has renounced U.S. citizenship
is subject to a court order restraining him or her from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child
has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence
is under age 18 for long guns or under age 21 for handguns.
An FFL contacts either the FBI or state POC to determine whether a prospective purchaser is prohibited from receiving a firearm. The FBI conducts all NICS checks for 29 states. POC agencies, which may be statewide or local, conduct all NICS checks for 13 other states. In the remaining 8 states, NICS checks are conducted by POC agencies on handgun transfer applicants and by the FBI on long gun transfer applicants. Several states require an additional background check, usually by a local agency that does not access the NICS but uses only state records. State laws may require a check on a permit applicant or a person who seeks to receive a firearm from an unlicensed seller.

For more information on the NICS, visit the FBI Criminal Justice Information Service (CJIS) website.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) began the Firearm Inquiry Statistics (FIST) program in 1995 to provide national estimates of the total number of firearm applications received and denied pursuant to the Brady Act and similar state laws. The FIST program collects counts of firearm transfers and permit checks conducted by state and local agencies and combines this information with FBI NICS transaction data. Under FIST, additional information is collected on reasons for denials, appeals of denials, and law enforcement actions the FBI and the ATF take against denied persons.

To obtain a copy of this report, please go to

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