gun store background check 4473
(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
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By Larry Keane

In any other arena, whether personal development, academic grading or business growth, achieving a 270 percent increase above a baseline would be considered an outstanding achievement worthy of praise. The firearm industry just pulled it off and is working to get the number even higher.

NSSF achieved a 270 percent increase in the number of submitted adjudicated mental health records to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). That’s the system used by firearm retailers to ensure customers aren’t prohibited individuals. The firearm industry is working to make sure each time a retailer runs a check, they can be confident NICS is providing them an accurate determination based on full and complete data.

The updated figure as of Dec. 31, 2020, is a direct result of state-level efforts spearheaded by the firearm industry trade association, as well as the federal-level bipartisan FixNICS congressional legislation, signed into law by President Donald J. Trump in 2018.

30 Years of Progress

The current FBI NICS point-of-sale instant criminal background check system is over 20 years old. But NSSF has always supported thorough firearm background checks, including the 1993 Brady Act that created point-of-sale background checks at retailers and the 1998 law creating NICS, which further coordinated information sharing between states and federal agencies.

However, 10th Amendment limitations mean the federal government can’t force states to share prohibiting mental health records with the federal agencies. NSSF launched the FixNICS campaign in 2013 to urge states to boost efforts and resources to proactively share this information.

NSSF efforts led to victories in 16 states so far that passed laws increasing the number of prohibiting mental health records to FBI’s NICS. Federally, Fix NICS legislation introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), named after the NSSF’s FixNICS campaign, was included in legislation receiving bipartisan support in both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and ultimately signed into law by President Trump.

The federal bill required federal agencies to enter all disqualifying records under current law. Sen. Cornyn’s legislation also allowed a federal grant for states to help upload these records.

The background check system is only as good as the quality of the records submitted. In December, 2012, the NICS background check system only included approximately 1.7 million disqualifying adjudicated mental health records and involuntary commitments. By Dec. 31, 2020, that number had risen to more than 6.14 million. That’s a 270 percent increase.

Further demonstrating how much the system has improved, since the NICS system first began processing background checks in November 1998, there have been over 365 million checks run to date. The accuracy of NICS is critical to keeping firearms out of the hands of prohibited persons. Firearm retailers rely upon NICS each time they transfer a firearm and that’s been especially important during the recent stretch of historic firearm purchasing by law-abiding Americans.

Industry-led Real Solutions

NSSF’s efforts to increase the effectiveness of the background check system is not the only initiative the firearm industry has spearheaded to offer Real Solutions for Safer Communities. In addition to FixNICS, Operation Secure Store provides firearm retailers with information and resources to help deter thefts and robberies. Don’t Lie for the Other Guy is an industry-led campaign reminding the public that lying on the background check form to purchase a firearm for someone who cannot or won’t do so themself is a felony that carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine. Project ChildSafe is NSSF’s campaign to promote safe and secure home firearm storage.

Teaming up with more than 15,000 local law enforcement agencies in all 50 states and U.S. territories, NSSF has provided more than 40 million free firearm safety kits including gun locking devices to secure firearms. NSSF is also working with the largest suicide prevention organization to help reduce suicides involving firearms by providing information and resources to firearm retailers, ranges and gun owners.

All of these initiatives are industry-led efforts and have a proven track record of success. These programs have led to the lowest level of accidental firearm fatalities in America since the data was first recorded in 1903.

These are Real Solutions. They make our communities safer. They work and the firearm industry will keep working at them.


Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.


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  1. NSSF may serve some actual benefit to someone, somewhere, but they are not staunch 2A defenders. “Shooting Sports” says it all.

    • I think “NSSF has always supported thorough firearm background checks, including the 1993 Brady Act” says it all.

  2. If they are not going to run NICS right then it should be abolished. Perhaps it was never intended to be though.

    The one part of this that has always confused me is the idea that anyone has to share someone’s medical records with anyone. I see no reason to do this at all in order to make the NICS system work properly. The ONLY thing required of state level participants is a yes/no or red light/green light 1 or 0 communication with the FBI. As long as everyone involved does their part, it would work and STILL be within HIPPA regulations. But even then, you still run into issues. But there is already a mechanism in place for someone taking power of attorney over someone else. Even things that legally gives someone the authority to make medical decisions for someone else. So as a society, we HAVE accepted certain degrees of forfeiture of rights. This can and perhaps should be continually debated (as with felons and so forth) but the question is ‘what is to be done in the mean time? and WITHOUT taking right away from others?’.

  3. “I think “NSSF has always supported thorough firearm background checks, including the 1993 Brady Act” says it all”

    Can’t disagree.

      • I see no connection between gun accidents and NICS or preventing straw purchases. Gun locks might have a small effect on juvenile and adolescent accidents. I don’t see a connection between suicide prevention and accidents, other than anecdotal stories of suicides being ruled as cleaning accidents to prevent embarrassing the family and allowing insurance payouts.

        I think the real credit belongs to education programs, like NRA. Even Youtubers who demonstrate responsible gun handling is more likely a greater influence than NSSF.

        • one of the real issues that needs to be addressed…and one that leads to a lot of accidents is to make absolutely clear to a buyer is whether or not a semi-automatic pistol will fire with the magazine removed…so many people don’t seem to be aware of this until something tragic happens….I think the seller has an obligation to explain to a buyer whether or not the item being purchased has this property and to make absolutely sure the purchaser understands this

  4. Guilty until proven innocent. NICS is an abomination to the 4th Amendment and most of the others as well. And the NSSF is merrily working to further limit our rights. Can’t say that I’m a fan of their work.

  5. NSSF says it’s working with the BATFE .
    Working with? I suppose it’s all about which gunms are legal and which ones aren’t.
    It doesn’t say ” The right to be armed shall have infringements.”
    It’s good to hear gunm accidents are down.

  6. There is a lot in this press release that warrants a follow-up.

    First: “. . . the lowest level of accidental firearm fatalities in America since the data was first recorded in 1903.”

    I remember seeing a graph on accidental firearm fatalities beginning around the turn of the century. It’s very striking. It was very high around 1900/1903 and goes down steadily. If it were re-calibrated in rate per 100,000 population it would be ever more striking.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find this graph. If NSSF has the data they ought to publish it prominently. It may be our most astounding success story of PotG managing gun-safety in our own interest and doing an outstanding job of it.

    Now that the number of incidents is very low and the best data is readily available, NSSF ought to dig into the context of the incidents in recent years. Who is accidentally killing people by gunshot? We really ought to know this. For our own good; and, to set the record straight in public relations. Our continuing efforts to reduce accidents will be informed by details. The public perception of gun accidents will be shaped by the data.

    Suppose these accidents were mainly: hunting; gun-cleaning; kids finding un-attended guns; young adults being careless; experienced gun-owners making a careless mistake; new gun owners with/with-out training; people with deep roots in the gun-owning tradition; inner-city dwellers whose exposure to safety practices is at best casual.

    It wouldn’t cost NSSF or NRA a lot of money to find the death certificates and police reports and start tabulating information. Some sample inquiries to survivors could fill in logical blanks not found in the official documents.

    If young kids are killing with guns found unattended then we had better own up to the problem. But what if this is hardly the case at all? What if it’s experienced gun-owners shooting themselves or fellow experienced gun-owners? The public won’t care. So what’s the data? Kids = 100/year; 400 = Old Fat White Hunters? Or, vice versa.

    We PotG need to recognize that NICS in FFLs isn’t going away soon. It’s probably NEVER going away. Trying to abolish NICS background checks for retail sales is a waste of energy that could and SHOULD be directed toward other goals. This is NOT hard to do.

    NSSF has as it’s primary objective protecting the FFL industry. That won’t change. They have the leverage on NICS reform; we should be working WITH them not fighting them.

    NSSF does NOT want a news report of a shooting to include a mention that the gun was purchased at “Mom & Pop’s Bait & Tackle, a licensed gun dealer.” Nor do WE PotG want that to happen. We should WANT criminal and mental dis-able-ing events to be promptly and accurately reported and catalogued in NICS.

    I hasten to add that we each have our own opinions as to types of events which should NOT be dis-able-ing. E.g., Martha Stewart’s conviction or a vet’s authorizing an agent to handle his VA affairs. Nevertheless, these are NOT a NICS problem; instead, they are a problem with the Prohibited-Person law(s). It’s pointless to fight NICS when we ought to enlist NSSF’s support in reforming the Prohibited-Person laws.

    We all sense that there is a natural right to privacy in our medical and especially mental health records. Nevertheless, an adjudication of mental incompetency is both a (private) personal matter AND a (public) judicial record. If it’s public then that’s the end of the discussion. The best we can do is improve the Prohibited-Person criteria and promote expungement opportunities. This is a matter of using our resources where they can be productive rather than wasting them on principles where we are almost certain to lose every battle.

    Where I think we might gain the most ground – especially through cooperating with NSSF – is reducing the FALSE-Positive rate in NICS denials. These are preemptive denials of civil rights under color of law. If we are NOT going to “win” by abolishing the FFL NICS check then we have – AT LEAST – a compelling case to minimize the impact of the preemptive denials.

    Anyone who has been denied OUGHT to be ENTITLED to a prompt, cooperative and efficient effort on the part of the FBI (or Point of Contact state agency) to identify the origin of the record causing the denial and digging into the details. A citizen should NOT have to FIGHT for his rights; it is the government which should be responsive. We don’t have to fight for birth certificates, marriage certificates, passports and the like. These are services that should-be – and generally are – delivered with courtesy and efficiency. Where the trigger is a preemptive denial of a civil right the citizen’s petition for redress is even more compelling.

    UBC isn’t primarily a NSSF fight; but, they will be our most effective allies. I think our most effective tactic will be to water-down any UBC bill to the point where it ceases to be the gun-controller’s wet dream. Thereupon, the bill will either be dropped; or, we will have minimized the damage.

    Our best argument is NOT private SALES, but private temporary transfers. Here’s the outstanding argument. Tom tells his friend Dick they he has problems at home. Maybe he’s depressed. He’s been arguing with his wife. His son is using drugs. Tom wants to leave his guns with Dick for a while. This just isn’t going to happen if Tom has to run a UBC and 4473 for each gun; and, then Dick must do the same to return the guns to Tom when things calm down.

    Or, Dick leaves some of his guns with Harry because the gun range they frequent is close to Harry’s house. Or, Dick’s house is more vulnerable to burglary than Harry’s. Or Dick’s going to be traveling for a while. Such cases – though not as compelling as the previous examples – simply don’t present the potential for a sale to a stranger.

    Stranger sales do represent a cost/benefit scenario which we shouldn’t try to dismiss. If the seller does NOT KNOW that the buyer is already a gun-owner then there is a slightly higher risk that the buyer MIGHT be a prohibited person.

    Should the buyer/seller meet at a “gun show” as strangers then there is little reason why gun-show operators couldn’t be authorized access to NICS to run a background check; preferably without the paperwork of a 4473 form.

    If buyer/seller meet (as strangers) in some other forum (e.g., newspaper advertisement) then there is the cost of their meeting at an FFL vs. the statistical benefit of preventing a rare case of an unknowing transfer to a prohibited person. The states are in a better position to perform this balancing calculation. Moreover, it’s clearly within their 10A power to legislate for public safety and morals.

    In PA – as in many other states – there is an FFL within reasonable driving distance of nearly everyone. If buyer or seller need to drive 10 miles to meet, they can drive 15 miles to meet at an FFL. PA deems the extra effort to be worthwhile for handgun sales but NOT long-gun sales. PA voters can live with this or urge a change in either direction at the state capital.

    The Western states are entirely different. Those states ought to be free to reach entirely different conclusions. There, a .44 magnum revolver is a bear gun, not something to use to kill a competing drug dealer. An option that ought to be available to states is to allow Notaries Public (or merchants generally) access to NICS; again, without 4473 forms.

    A Congressional representative or senator can easily explain to his constituents that he feels each state can require (or not) UBC on handguns or long guns as they see fit for their respective residents. He’s not going to loose any reelection because he took such a position. This tactic might be just enough to peal-away the critical votes that could put a UBC bill over-the-top.

    We PotG who tend toward the Absolutist end of the spectrum ought to think about the practicalities of wining; more than the principles of being right but losing the war. We should be making love with NSSF, not war. While our interests are not 100% in alignment with theirs, they are so closely aligned that we ought to be working cooperatively.

    • You make interesting observations/arguments. Better presentation of potential actions than most. However….

      How do you get to zero infringements if you accommodate infringements? Proving yourself not guilty upends the entire notion that humans have unalienable rights. “Unalienable” seems to mean absolute, because if “unalienable” rights are not absolute, then restrictions, and the rights themselves, are merely a matter of legislative power.

    • I agree. I’m just not capable of saying all that with such elliquence.

      Where it all fails though is in one very important place. Your trying to apply logic to something controlled by power hungry lunatics. People see whats going on and thats why gun sales went through the roof. I would certainly trust NSSF more than the NRA with this and I would like to have that data too. But even if we all had that data, those that need to understand it the most would dismiss it as a vast right wing conspiracy talking point. Its the people that make the laws that impose their will and double standard. They will not do what actually makes common sense to do. In spite of all your logic and reasonable requests, they want to disarm the American population. That means NO FFL or NSSF or NRA. You can’t reason with lunatics that want to control you if not destroy you.

    • something as simple as a phone call before a private sale to ascertain whether or not you’re selling to a prohibited person would provide the seller with peace of mind without the hassle and expense of seeking out an FFL dealer and the attendant paperwork…make it simple and people will be much more inclined to do it…

  7. “President Donald Trump quietly signed a bill into law Tuesday rolling back an Obama-era regulation that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase a gun.

    The rule, which was finalized in December, added people receiving Social Security checks for mental illnesses and people deemed unfit to handle their own financial affairs to the national background check database.

    Had the rule fully taken effect, the Obama administration predicted it would have added about 75,000 names to that database.”

    • People receive Social Security checks for mental illness. I did not know that, I thought they received a disability check.

    • Make Paul Harvey proud, tell us the rest of the story.

      Many on SS are not mentally ill but still have others take care if their finances for a variety of reasons. Your link of course misrepresents that fact. The law under Obama did not make a distinction between those groups.

      It is hyperbole to suggest that the 75k plus who would have been flagged were all unable to make financial decisions for mental illness.

      • most perceived that as just one more attempt to nibble away at the amount of people able to acquire or possess firearms…

    • The date on that was 2/28/17.
      I’ll tell you why that Obama “law” was a complete farce.
      I had broken my right arm in two places and had to have rotator cuff surgery.
      I was out of commission for more then a year.
      My right arm was as useful as Miner 49er, basically completely useless.
      I was put on SS disability but it wasn’t because of metal illness.
      Federal law states that you have to fill out the 4473 by yourself.
      Under Obama’s version of the law I wasn’t legally allowed to buy a gun from a FFL.
      I couldn’t do the paperwork by myself so I was prohibited. Was I mental? No.
      Could I even balance my checkbook or proficiently type? No.
      On 2/28/17 POTUS Trump took care of that.
      One of the provisions of that BS Obama law was the ability to fill out a 4473 by yourself.
      My FFL told me to come back when I was able to do so.
      I did and bought a few more guns. Obama was a complete tool.
      Flagged by NICS for a mangled arm, that was in that bill, what a sick joke.
      A year of hell and a year of physical therapy.
      The left always tries to infringe on peoples 2A rights.
      The only thing that Trump messed up on was he didn’t destroy the ACA when he had his chance.
      That will be Obama’s legacy, the ACA which destroyed “affordable” coverage and doctors.
      I had great insurance before the ACA, now I have to pay for every gangbanger that skips out on
      100K plus hospital bills. Thank You Barack Hussein, you can shut up now, nobody cares anymore.
      You talk more now then when you were actually in office. Go live in Kenya with your family.
      Take Michelle, Malia and Sasha with you.

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