The NICS has been the subject of much discussion lately thanks to the FixNICS bill, and mostly because the system clearly doesn’t work as well as it should. Lots of gun owners worry that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System – or NICS – has records of gun buyers and the firearms they purchased. They’re concerned that it could be used as a de facto gun registry.
Have you seen ‘Red Dawn’? One of the first things the Soviet and Cuban invaders do is round up all known gun owners.
Whether or not that’s realistic, it still behooves us to know just how long records are maintained by the NICS and by extension, the ATF and other parties when it comes to gun purchases.
Records of successful transactions are kept for 24 hours. In other words, if you submit the paperwork to buy a firearm and the background check is submitted to their database, it’s only retained for 24 hours before being deleted IF you weren’t denied. However, the number of transactions and the date(s) are kept on file for 90 days.
How long are records of denied background checks kept?
They are kept indefinitely, though they aren’t kept in the NICS database indefinitely. The NICS logs those transactions and keeps a database of denied applications for a period of 10 years, after which it is transferred to an FBI database.
Those checks that are put on hold or are otherwise in an open status are kept for 90 days and are then destroyed. However, the date(s) and NTN – the NICS Transaction Number(s) – are kept indefinitely.
That covers the NICS system itself. Current law prohibits the FBI, the ATF or any federal agency, department or officer from using NICS data to create a firearms owner registry of any sort, except those persons who are prohibited from possessing a firearm.
However, it’s a whole other ballgame for FFLs.
A Federal Firearms License holder, specifically those holding the buyer/seller license, has to maintain copies of all ATF 4473 forms – that’s the one you fill out to buy or otherwise take possession of a firearm – for 20 years. If the FFL holder ceases doing business, they have to send their 4473 records to the ATF.
Not only that, the records must be hard copies. By law, they cannot be digitized. Even the ATF can’t digitize records if they receive them from a store that went out of business. They’ve actually had to dry out thousands of 4473s they’ve received after major hurricanes and other disasters.
So, that’s how NICS records are kept…or at least, that’s what the laws tell us. What’s mandated and what actually happens can be two different things. You may not like the NICS system, how about the retention periods…sound about right to you? Are you the cynical type who thinks they already have a gun registry and are just waiting to use it?