For decades, local and national legislation has attempted to balance the constitutional right to carry guns with the requirement that gun owners use them lawfully. This balance is struck through the gun background checks processed via the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
Your Local Security looked at the evolution of the background check’s role in purchasing firearms, and our analysis of NICS data, taken from the American Community Survey’s 2017 one-year estimates, uncovered some interesting facts about gun-buying patterns across the country.
State & Season
The total number of background checks has risen steadily for nearly the past 20 years; there was a slight decrease in 2017. In 2018, Federal Firearms License dealers initiated more than 23 million background checks. However, there are significant variations in how many requests came in from each state.
Kentucky generated far more than any other state — 4,508,298 to be exact. That’s not necessarily because more gun owners reside in the Bluegrass State than elsewhere in the country. Rather, Kentucky has more background checks per capita because it is the only state that requires every concealed-carry permit holder to undergo automatic monthly rechecks.
YLS also found some clear trends in the days, weeks and months with the highest number of background checks over the past two decades. December, in fact, is one of the busiest months, with four of the top 10 weeks. We can’t say for sure that it’s due to Thanksgiving sales, six of the top 10 days have occurred on a Black Friday; November 24, 2017, had the highest number of background checks on any single day.
In the last 20 years, 0.53 percent of the 302,069,735 total background checks submitted were denied. The most common reason was because the applicant was convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year or a misdemeanor punishable by more than two years in prison. Distant second and third reasons for denial were for fugitives from justice or unlawful users of a controlled substance. The fewest denials, though — 101 to be exact — were for individuals who renounced their U.S. citizenship.
Some History of Gun Background Check
The Bill of Rights gave every U.S. citizen the right to carry a gun. However, it would be 143 years before any federal laws regulated the ownership and use of firearms. On the local level in the late 1800s, however, city leaders seeking stable, family-friendly communities enacted ordinances limiting the carrying of guns on the street.
Many of the most notorious towns of the Wild West, such as Tombstone, Deadwood, Abilene and Dodge City, required visitors to leave their guns with the sheriff (or check them in at a hotel, like a coat-check system). Southern states were among the first to enact laws prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons in the early 1800s.
Legislation around firearms shifted to the national level after the public became concerned with the increasingly cozy relationships between gangs and local government in big cities like Chicago. For example, many saw the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929 as “the culmination of the use of criminals by politicians and of politicians by criminals. This mutuality of service and profit made twins of politics and crime,” according to A. Brad Schwartz in The New York Times.
Five years later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took dead aim at Tommy-Gun-toting gang members with the National Firearms Act of 1934. This was the first federal gun-control law in history. The NFA levied a steep tax ($200) on the manufacture or sale of machine guns and sawed-off shotguns, effectively removing those weapons from private ownership. The Federal Firearms Act of 1938 went even further in defining who could own a gun by making it illegal to transfer ownership of firearms to “certain classes of persons,” including felons.
While there were prohibitions in place as to who could buy a gun, there was no way for FFL dealers to know if someone was on the “do not sell” list — at least not until the passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1993.
The Brady Bill was spurred by the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley Jr. It was named after White House press secretary James Brady, who was paralyzed in the attack. The legislation instituted mandatory background checks, as well as a five-day waiting period before a gun could be legally transferred to a new, qualified owner until the NICS was implemented in 1998.
The Gun Background Check Process Today
First, federal law requires buyers to provide a photo ID and ATF Form 4473 to the FFL. The FFL then contacts the NICS for the gun background check. On average, results from the NICS come back quickly. In 2015, the wait and processing time to an NICS call center averaged 446.3 seconds. Online NICS E-Checks are even faster, with an average wait and processing time of 107.5 seconds.
Clean background checks mean that the transfer of the firearm can proceed immediately. If the initial check brings up incomplete data, however, the transaction will be delayed. Then, the NICS has three business days to conduct additional research with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. If the NICS is unable to deny the application by the end of that time period, applicants will be approved. Also, those who were denied can appeal the decision. NICS may issue a denial if the buyer has a similar name or description as one in the aforementioned categories.
The process of buying a gun is pretty much the same no matter where you live. However, there are variations in waiting periods and other aspects of state law around firearm ownership. That’s why it’s important to know your local and state laws well. For more information, visit yourlocalsecurity.com.
This article was originally published in Personal Defense World No. 220. To order a copy, please visit outdoorgroupstore.com.
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