Reasons That a Firearm Transfer Can Be Denied

Man presenting gun with tag.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Since the passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, anyone who purchases a firearm in the United States must submit to a background check to determine if they are eligible to buy and possess a gun.

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

When a prospective buyer wants to purchase a firearm, they 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 will then request a NICS check. The NICS has three business days to either 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 the NICS responds.

On average, only about one percent of firearms 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 Firearm Transfers

Under federal law, there are specific reasons that a firearm transfer can be denied. If you have had a firearm transfer denied, it is because you or someone else with a similar name or descriptive features has ever been:

  • Convicted of a felony
  • Convicted in any court of a crime which is punishable by a term of more than one year or a misdemeanor punishable by more than two years. This is the number one reason why requests for firearm transfers are denied.
  • Indicted for a crime punishable by more than one year
  • A fugitive from justice
  • A user of illegal drugs or an addict
  • Involuntarily committed to a mental institution
  • An illegal alien
  • Dishonorably discharged from the armed forces
  • Renounced your U.S. citizenship
  • Subject to a restraining order for threatening a family member
  • Convicted of domestic violence
  • Under an indictment, but not convicted, of a crime carrying a possible year-long prison sentence

State Prohibitions

The NCIS can also deny a firearm transfer based on any applicable state laws. For example, if your state has a law prohibiting the possession of a specific type of firearm, the 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 only created a huge black-market demand for illegal guns 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 that the FBI had denied the transaction 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 which 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 Firearm Transfer Denial

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

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


U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Justice Information Services Division. "Guide for Appealing a Firearm Transfer Denial".