Reasons Why a Firearm Sale Can Be Denied

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Since the passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, those who purchase firearms from licensed dealers in the United States must submit to a background check to determine if they are eligible to buy and possess a gun.

Licensed dealers must check each person who tries to buy a firearm through the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

Prospective buyers who want to purchase firearms must first provide the dealer with photo identification and a completed Firearms Transaction Record, or Form 4473. If the buyer answers yes to any of the questions on Form 4473, the dealer is required to deny the sale. It is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, to lie when completing the form.

If the buyer qualifies, the dealer then requests a NICS check. NICS has three business days to approve or deny the sale. If the three days pass without a NICS determination, then the dealer can process the sale of the firearm (depending on local laws) or wait until NICS responds.

Only about 1 percent of firearm transfers are denied by the NICS system, mainly because most convicted criminals already know they are not eligible to own a gun.

Prohibitive Criteria for Transfers

Federal law establishes specific reasons why a firearm transfer can be denied. If your firearm transfer is denied, it is because you or someone else with a similar name or descriptive features has ever:

  • Been convicted of a felony.
  • Been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by more than one year or a misdemeanor punishable by more than two years. This is the primary reason why requests for firearm transfers are denied.
  • Been indicted for a crime punishable by more than one year.
  • Been a fugitive from justice.
  • Been a user of illegal drugs or an addict.
  • Been involuntarily committed to a mental institution.
  • Been an illegal alien.
  • Been dishonorably discharged from the armed forces.
  • Renounced U.S. citizenship.
  • Been subject to a restraining order for threatening a family member.
  • Been convicted of domestic violence.
  • Been under an indictment, but not convicted, of a crime carrying a possible year-long prison sentence.

State Prohibitions

The NCIS also can deny a firearm transfer based on applicable state laws. For example, if your state has a law prohibiting the possession of a specific type of firearm, NICS can deny your transfer even though possession of that firearm is not prohibited by federal law.

The Brady Law was designed to make sure that only law-abiding citizens can purchase and own firearms, but critics claim that the law created a huge black-market demand for illegal gun sales to criminals.

NCIS Accuracy

In September 2016 the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General performed an audit to check the FBI's quality control of NICS transactions. They selected 447 denied transactions and found that only one transaction was incorrectly denied, which resulted in a 99.8 percent accuracy rate.

Next, the auditors looked at records indicating whether the FBI had denied the transactions within three business days. Out of 306 records chosen randomly, 241 were processed by the FBI appropriately. However, six of the transactions were denied internally by the FBI, but the denial was not communicated to the dealers from one day to more than seven months after the denial.

Auditors also found 59 transactions that the FBI approved but should have denied. The FBI’s quality control checks caught and corrected 57 of these errors as a part of its internal controls.

Appealing a Transfer Denial

If you try to purchase a gun and receive a firearms transfer denial during the background check, you can appeal that denial if you don't meet any of the prohibitive criteria and believe a mistake has been made.

Approximately 1 percent of firearms transfers are denied, and many times it's because of mistaken identity or incorrect records at NICS. Therefore, many firearms transfer denial appeals are successful.

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