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Every time someone buys a gun from a licensed dealer they need to have a background check performed before they can walk out with their new shiny. Some states like Virginia run their own background check system. Others allow you to skip it altogether if you have the right paperwork (like Texas for CHL holders). But for everyone else, the FBI’s National Instant Check System is the mechanism that makes the pass/fail call. According to  some reports, the call volume to the FBI’s NICS system was so high this past Friday that it actually overwhelmed the system’s capacity and made it unavailable . . .

From the Bangor Daily News:

Sometime early on Black Friday, the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, went down and stopped all gun sales, Bangor-area gun dealers said.

High call volumes caused “intermittent outages” in the system, an FBI spokesman confirmed Friday afternoon.

I work in network security for my day job, and I’ve seen this happen again and again for customers. But when it happens on the internet its called something else: a Distributed Denial of Service attack, or DDoS. This either happens when the 15 year olds over on 4chan get bored, or when a site is so popular that it can’t handle the traffic its generating. “Slashdotting” used to be the popular term before Reddit came about.

When you’re under a DDoS, whether from legitimate traffic or an attack, there are really only two options: shut everything down and wait for it to stop (turtling), or expand capacity to meet demand. It looks like the FBI opted for the former option.

“It means we can’t sell no damn guns,” Rick Lozier, a manager at Van Raymond Outfitters in Brewer, said at about 1:15 p.m.

“NICS is down, which means nobody is selling guns right now, on Black Friday,” said Ralph McLeod, owner of Buyers Guns in Holden.


“The message is they are going to be down for a few hours,” McLeod said at about noon Friday.

First things first, this isn’t the first time NICS has gone down due to overwhelming demand. Anytime there’s a bunch of big gun shows on the same weekend, NICS starts to get a little shaky. But given recent events and the uptick in gun sales in general, you’d think the FBI would have staffed the NICS division a little more heavily for Black Friday in particular.

This failure of the NICS system simply highlights a growing cause for concern, especially among those of us who are stamp collectors.

The ATF has been severely understaffed in their NFA division for years, which has caused a six month backlog for the investigators. That backlog means it takes a long-ass time to get anything approved. And it’s causing the burgeoning civilian silencer industry some considerable consternation. People seem to be willing to pay for silencers, but the wait is what’s keeping them from pulling the trigger on their purchase. Some people are even pointing at this perpetual under-staffing as a backdoor gun control measure, deterring people form buying or making NFA items.

Its entirely possible that NICS, a government program that is required by law for purchases from most gun stores, could be used to shut down or severely hinder legal firearms purchases. If there are no available NICS agents, then no one can buy a gun from a dealer at that time.

Even if there are no sinister motives behind the lack of staffing (which there probably isn’t) it sure makes buying guns rather difficult for law abiding citizens.

The silver lining to this cloud is that more NCIS checks indicates more gun purchases. We already knew that gun stores are doing land office business these days, and it looks like Black Friday was another banner day to be an FFL. Which kinda disproves that whole “guns are becoming less popular” thing.

[via OAatL]

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  1. A few points.

    “The silver lining to this cloud is that more NCIS checks indicates more gun purchases. “-We should note that gun ownership is not equivalent to gun activism. Given the high volume of purchases as of late, quite a few Obama voters own guns.

    The next point is something all of us already know-the government will use any avenue of bureaucracy to deny the right to keep and bear arms. We should watch NJ carefully in the coming months and years to ensure that police departments charged with processing gun permits don’t use the situation to deny people. Ergo, “I know its been 5 years, but Hurricane Sandy wiped out our paper records, so we still can’t process a pistol permit for you. Check back in 5 years…….”

    • Mmm, I tend to use Occam’s razor when it comes to conspiracy thinking – if there’s a simpler explanation, it is probably more likely.

      But ST raises an interesting point, plenty of Democrats and liberals own guns, and the NRA hasn’t done themselves any favors with the old “Democrats evil, Republicans good” canard. Obama expanded gun carry rights to include National Parks, but the October 2012 American Rifleman “Hand Obama His Walking Papers” cover story effectively guaranteed more than half of US citizens won’t join their organization – in direct conflict with their mission statement that “every reputable gun owner should be an NRA member.”

      I bought a Smith & Wesson M&P15T on Black Friday in Colorado with a 30 minute wait. The first thing I did when I opened the box was throw away the NRA literature. I wish gun manufacturers would stick with making guns and avoid politics. I know plenty of online retailers have lost my business due to their incendiary rhetoric, and I bet I’m not the only one.

      • +1 NRA is a joke, it’s a money machine. Want proof? Join and see how long it takes for your mailbox to be full of their “they’re taking away our guns if you don’t send us $50”. I quit the NRA, so did my Dad, so did all of his friends, all for the same BS.

        • My dad was a lifetime NRA member and fell for the fearmongering all the time. The NRA has been parroting the old “OMG the jackbooted thugs are right around the corner!” line since at least the early 1980’s, and the only thing my dad’s money did was help get Wayne LaPierre richer.

        • First… It is enough proof when I see the fear that the Gun Grabbers have of the NRA. The NRA must be doing something right.

          Second… if your read the NRA’s charter their primary mission is firearms training. The NRA was founded after the Civil War specifically as a “firearms training” organization. The NRA did not become politically active until the 1970’s when they tried to ban ammunition outright.

          I tell people who I train at my range that they should support “some” pro-gun rights organization. It does not have to be the NRA, you can support the GOA, SAF, JPFO….etc. They only ask between $10 and $35 a year for a membership. You DON’T HAVE to send any follow up money if they ask.

          The way I see it… I am too busy training people how to shoot and teaching them about the meaning of the Second Amendment to be going to Washington and jumping up and down with Pro-Gun signs. I pay someone bigger then me, more organized them me and more influential them me to do it for me.

      • +1. I am really tired of the old NRA rhetoric, which has little to do with gun ownership and more to do with fund raising and a Republican agenda. Buying in to the second amendment does not require one to buy in to a whole lot of other positions, like banning abortion in the case of rape or incest, privatizing FEMA or handing it to the States (wonder how that would have worked with Sandy!). The NRA seems to believe that gun rights will only be safe when there are no more Democrats in Congress. As the most recent election shows, that will never happen. Gun rights will be safe when Democrats that own and support gun rights are elected. When the NRA threw Harry Reid under the bus in 2010, despite his long standing support for gun owners in Nevada (and preventing many pieces of anti-gun legislation from making it to the floor of the Senate) it became obvious that their whole approach was broken.

        • I agree the NRA’s mailing order is annoying but the NRA does good too. They help shore up our resistance in the House to block gun bans for and will help defeat any UN gun ban they do good too.

        • I agree… but….. we it is more wise of us to work with those gun owning Democrats and have them demand more gun rights throughout their party. This is more effective then making fun of them and alienating them from the Pro-Gun Rights cause.

          Realistically… the pro gun Democrats is the only reason Obama is not not charging ahead and trying to ban guns. Obama does not care about what Republican Gun owners have to say… we didn’t vote for him. Obama is very concerned with what Democrat Gun Owners want because they are a sizable portion of his party.

        • You say that, but republicans are just as evil.

          Reagan signed the Mulford Act of 1968 into place, which gave California its “sterling” gun laws.

          Bush Sr banned imports of good rifles so that Ruger could field the Mini-14 on a more exclusive playing field.

          Schwarzenneger signed the .50BMG ban into place out here in California

          The list goes on.

  2. My dealer couldn’t get through for four hours. I was giving my younger brother his first gun for his birthday earlier this month and we had to come back the next day before he could get approved since the lines only got clear after 6:30pm in the area for him. The local big box gun store had two ladies on the phone trying to get through to the FBI over and over again for two hours with a store full of anxious soon-to-be gunowners. It was horrendous.

  3. The USG steals 10-11% in taxes from the seller of guns and ammo which gets passed onto the buyer in the form of higher prices yet the USG chooses not to upgrade the system.

  4. Agree this isn’t more of the sky is falling crap we heard of in the last two weeks. More of the NCIS needs to be upgraded and in some situations when one has a Police license or Security license or even a CCW they can skip since they already had a background check if there license are current.

  5. I have a solution: if the NICS is down, then a gun dealer can go ahead with their sale. That does two things. First, it provides incentive for NICS to have appropriate capacity. Second, it prevents the government from implementing a de facto ban on nearly all sales of nearly all firearms … which is blatantly unconstitutional.

    After all, what stops the government from simply shutting down the NICS system? All it would take is an executive order.

      • How about getting the Supreme Court to rule that the most explicit right in the Bill of Rights is not really an individual right? How about getting the CDC to “deem” firearms a public health threat?

        I don’t believe it’s deliberate either but you’d be foolish to think that there is a tactic the anti-gun fascists have not considered and will not attempt. Every authority granted to the Government eventually is abused. Every single one.

      • I am not arguing that NICS going down on Black Friday was a conspiracy. Rather, it exposed a serious weakness that any number of events can almost entirely stop firearm sales. And the most sinister event is a simple executive order to shut down or effectively shut down NICS.

        Any system with such a vulnerable single point of failure needs backup systems. (Think BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.) At present there is nothing.

  6. To say it was defiantly not a deliberate act makes the same assumptions as saying it defiantly was a deliberate act. Unless there is evidence one way or another, case open. Stranger $h!t has happened.

  7. Sorry, I was partially responsible for this. Even though I don’t own any guns, I sometimes walk into a gun store and do a NICS check just to make sure I’m not on the terror watch list. But I never buy any guns.

  8. I got lucky. The Dick’s that I was getting my .308 Model 700 from let me fill out my 4473 and faxed the NICS check on Wednesday afternoon.

    When I came in Friday, I only had to wait about 30 minutes for the check to come back and to pay.

    • I got the same gun but waited til’ 3AM (bought some ammo and shopped, though) only to be told the lines were busy. The worker who told me to wait til’ three then said it took 3 to 4 hours to get through the year before on last years black fri sale. Wish he had told me about that as I would have left far sooner. Ended up picking the gun up (and one for my brother) the next day.

  9. This wasn’t on purpose and they can’t expand the system and have not been legally able to for the last couple of years. The reason is that the federal government hasn’t passed a budget for at least two years and cannot award a new contract without a new budget passed. Continuing resolution doesn’t allow it. I know because I work in government contracting as a sun contractor, waiting for a budget to be passed so my company can get their first direct federal contract.

  10. Although I dislike the idea of having to pay for a ccw license I did it anyways and now am glad!! In Arkansas if you have your ccw then no call to NiCS. Show your ccw license, drivers license, fill out the paperwork, pay the man and head home to try out the new toy!!

  11. I am wondering “what would all the Gun Shops do if they found out the Feds are NOT APPROVING any sales.”
    Meanining if it went several Months with NO APPROVALS, and work spread that the Govt. is not issuing approval.
    John Arizona

  12. Found this one out the hard way when I made the mistake of going to buy my first stripped lower this last Friday. It took the guy behind the counter 15 mins and about 30 calls to get through, he said it’d been like that all day. That didn’t really surprise me considering some of the deals I’d seen in the flyers.

    On the subjects of Democrat gun owners, I’d say that although there are times when I will not vote Republican, there will never be a time when I would vote Democrat. As much as I hate it because I feel like a hypocrite (I often voice dislike for one issue voters), I feel like someone being pro-gun control says a lot about what they think of personal rights and true equality. I am also a strong believer in not sacrificing liberty for security, and I find it ironic that many left leaning people who made that their mantra during Bush’s presidency are very anti-gun.

  13. Yep, happened to a friend on Friday. We went shooting at the range, and then he decided to pick up his first carry weapon, a new Ruger LCP. He just got his permit a couple weeks ago. Filled out all the paperwork, then we stood around for about 2 hours waiting because the clerk couldn’t get through to NICS. It sucks, but we ended up just leaving.

  14. Another reason I am glad to live in a free state. In Idaho, a CWL (concealed weapons license) is all you need to immediately purchase a gun from a dealer. No NICS check needed. Probably drives the feds nuts.

    • +100!! Me too. Arkansas is the same. Ccw license holders need no NiCS check, just do the paperwork, pay the man and take it home.
      Now if we can just get Castle law and Stand your ground passed here. We have neither right now so hoping we can convince pols we really do need it as another step to help law abiding citizens.


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