nics background check

NICS background checks are the product of 1980s gun control legislation. As a system, it is one of the largest (and still growing) gun control tactics in effect in the U.S.


Gun control legislation is hotly contested in American politics, but all the while background check records and denials have grown remarkably over nearly 20 years, a key tool used by state concealed carry permitting agencies and firearms transactions.


The graphic above will provide data on background checks broken down into category, year, month, state and active records. Click each item in the list to skip to the information you're interested in:


  • The 11 ranked categories tracked in the NICS Index
  • The total number of background check denials in each category
  • The state with the highest number of background checks
  • The total number of background checks since 1998

What The NICS Background Check Is And How It Started

beginnings of the nics background check system

In 1998 the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act established the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), a centralized database that records ineligibility status for gun transfers from licensed dealers/importers/manufacturers.


In 1981, President Ronald Reagan and three others were wounded by a .22 caliber Rohm RG-14. Reagan's Press Secretary, James S. Brady, was permanently disabled by a shot to the forehead.


His wife, Sarah Brady, became an outspoken advocate for gun control, and with the aid of others she presented the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act to Congress in 1987.


It was passed in 1993, with an interim five-day waiting period on handguns enforced until 1998 when the background check system was established.


The Brady Law amended the Gun Control Act of 1968, and the resulting NICS has been used to screen concealed carry permit applicants.


Transferees must sign an ATF Form 4473 and provide Government-issued ID. A background check will be conducted by the FBI, by the state acting as the point of contact for all firearms transactions or a mixture of the two depending on varying state laws and procedures.


How Many Have Been Denied After An NICS Check?

getting denied nics background check

According to June 2017 FBI reports, there are 11 ranked categories and 16,666,606 total active records in the NICS check index:

  1. Illegal/unlawful alien — 7,159,126
  2. Adjudicated mental health — 4,937,563
  3. Convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year or a misdemeanor punishable by more than two years — 3,251,766
  4. State prohibitor — 944,628
  5. Misdemeanor crime of domestic violence conviction — 148,647
  6. Under indictment/information — 79,172
  7. Protection/restraining order for domestic violence — 68,339
  8. Renounced U.S. citizenship — 40,672
  9. Unlawful user/addicted to a controlled substance — 25,149
  10. Dishonorable discharge — 11,213
  11. Fugitive from justice — 331

The number of background check denials, however, do not correlate whatsoever to the total active records held in each category, according to FBI records on federal NICS denials. Since 1998, there have been...


  • 772,384 denials to those convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year or a misdemeanor punishable by more than two years
  • 176,526 denials to fugitives from justice
  • 133,967 denials based on a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence conviction
  • 127,700 denials to those classified as an unlawful user/addicted to a controlled substance
  • 76,279 denials based on state prohibitors
  • 55,728 denials pertaining to protection/restraining orders for domestic violence
  • 44,647 denials to those under indictment/information
  • 30,039 denials pertaining to adjudicated mental health
  • 21,458 denials to illegal/unlawful aliens
  • 6,118 federally denied persons
  • 1,094 denials for those who were dishonorably discharged
  • 85 denials to those who've renounced U.S. citizenship

That amounts to a total of 1,446,025 denials.


These categories align with the federal prohibitors outlined in 18 U.S.C. 922 (g) (1-9).


There is data available for all recorded NICS background checks since 1998.

Gun Background Checks: Yearly, Categorical And State-Based Statistics

nics background check statistics

As of June 30, 2017 there have been 265,818,267 gun background checks conducted through NICS since November 30, 1998.


The numbers were more or less static until about 2005, riding between 8.45 and 8.9 million annually. However, they've raised significantly since then, with a peak of 27,538,673 in 2016 alone.


December 2015 is the highest month on record with 3,314,594 checks.

Note that just because these numbers indicate a background check ran through the NICS Index, they do not correlate directly to gun sales on a one-to-one ratio between background check and firearm sale.


In 2016, the highest ranking year in public record, there were 11,134,651 state permit background checks and 519,625 permit rechecks. Since 1998, however, there have been just shy of 72.5 million state permit background checks.


In 2016, the last year complete data is available for, Kentucky recorded the highest number of state NICS firearm background checks — as well as from 2006-2012, in 2014 and in 2015.


The highest weeks on record for NICS firearm checks are typically in mid-December, with the highest being 12/17/2012 to 12/23/2012 with a total of 953,613 checks conducted. The two days with the highest background checks on record, 11/25/2016 and 11/27/2015, are at 185,713 and 185,345, respectively.




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About The Author


Jake Smith (@notjakesmith) is a copywriter and photographer based in the pacific northwest. He graduated from the University of Idaho with degrees in public relations and apparel.