NICS Holiday Season Delays: Why Your Background Check Could Take an Hour or More

gun store used guns

(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Another year is nearing an end and as Black Friday and Christmas approach, I just wanted to discuss a few things with the readers regarding holiday firearm purchases and why things are going to require more patience than ever this year.

FBI NICS data reports indicate firearm sales as strong as 2016. That’s probably due to both the good economy and the Democrats’ push for gun control and outright confiscation. The added seasonal buying volume could mean a potential headache for customers.

Just for the record, I never understand why everyone seems to want their duck gun cleaned/checked out, scopes mounted on deer rifles and their Christmas gun shopping done all in the same two weeks each year. 

Inevitably, though, the firearms industry is always swamped with work right around this time of year because hunting season and Christmas somehow take folks by surprise.

Sharing some gripes/comments from others in the industry, I’ve noticed a few things worth mentioning to readers.

Instant Checks…Minus the Instant

Image via FBI.gov

A number of dealers I’ve talked to, particularly those in point of contact states (places like Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania that implement and maintain their own Brady NICS program) have reported massive delays in transaction processing.

Just to be clear I’m not talking about folks with a names like John Smith getting a delay from NICS or the state POC agency and asked to come back later. I’m talking about a regular person with a non-common last name going into a store at 11AM on a Saturday and the retailer not being able to get a decision on the transaction for an hour and a half.

Dealers (myself included) have typically borne the brunt of this by getting yelled at by irate customers. Just last week I got both barrels from a lady who screamed at me with her husband about how she has never had to wait an hour for a transaction to clear.

She hadn’t purchased a firearm for nine years and apparently didn’t know we have to wait for a decision before releasing firearms. I don’t make the rules. I just follow them.

Sometimes the system actually goes down and transactions stack up until the system comes back online. We see NICS and state POC systems go down frequently during the year and every retailer with transactions pending has to sit tight and wait for things to return to normalcy.

Other times, like my most recent instance, retailers are told that transaction volumes are high and to expect transaction processing to run behind until the system catches up with demand.

What This Means for You

gun store sales california

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

An unintended consequence of the government taking an hour or more to approve your transaction means that retailers get to hold you hostage and show you more guns and ammo that you probably want to buy while you’re waiting. Call it the vast right-wing up-sell conspiracy.

But really, what it means is that it’s going to take more time and effort to get in and out of your favorite retailer this time of year. You may be told by the retailer that there’s a one hour wait or you could get a thumbs up in the standard five minutes or less.

Businesses that rely on seasonal help will often be staffed up with people who aren’t familiar their products, the process they use to sell firearms, etc. and that can add to the level of frustration as well.

As a general rule, free time is often in short supply around the holidays. Couple this with standard levels of yuletide rage  and add an hour or more to complete a 4473 and you’ve got all the ingredients for the shopping experience from hell.

I’m not a big fan of shopping. I hear some folks love it; trying stuff out, pushing the cart around the store. Me…I get in, I get out and I get home.

If you’re like me, here are a few tips that could make your shopping adventures a little less stressful.

Do Your Shopping Early

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

I know a lot of folks are holding out for the big Black Friday deals, but in this industry a lot of the items are low margin and only the big box retailers will do doorbusters. Is it really worth waking up at 4AM to get in line to save $40?

My sleep and free time are worth a little more than that, but to each their own.

Just this morning I wrote up a sale for a special order rifle for a customer doing her shopping early for her husband. She knew what he wanted and was working on a budget.

After some fast analysis, her budget was very close to what she wanted to buy. In the spirit of being able to get a sale out the door before the thundering horde with a slightly larger discount than I would normally like, it was worth making the customer happy and not kicking the can into next week when things are going to start to get really busy.

Plus, this nice lady is making sure her husband is getting a rifle for Christmas that he’s been saving up for a year. That’s something we should all encourage whenever possible.

Don’t Be Surprised When Items Run Out

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

It’s just one of the realities in life: the good stuff goes first. Doorbusters and specials — especially on things like ammo or accessories where the price point is low and they’re something that everyone needs — are often in short supply.

Yesterday, I sold the last of the Springfield Hellcats that came in and I doubt we will be able to get more before Christmas. Some promo Federal RTP 9mm that I ordered in a few months ago is about to run out and I may not be able to match the prices on the restock since I order big when I get deals from my suppliers.

If your favorite dealer is out of the item you’re looking for, don’t be surprised. And don’t take it out on the dealer.

Lots of popular new products has rolled out this year and they’re in short supply. SIG P365 SAS, P365 XL and Ruger Wranglers have been notoriously hard to come by at times. Some more exotic stuff like SCAR 17‘s or KelTec CMR30‘s are even harder to come by. This won’t bode well for someone with their heart set on something specific with only four weeks to get the order filled.

Which means you need to . . .

Plan Ahead

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

I cannot stress this enough. Just as there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad equipment, a little thought can go a long way.

Our consistently busiest day is Saturday. If you can pick up your stuff in the middle of the week or first thing in the morning on Saturday, you’re going to save yourself (and the retailer) a lot of time and work. You’ll avoid the crowds and early in the morning, NICS typically isn’t that backed up. Which means you’ll spend a lot less time waiting.

If you do have to go in on a Saturday, by all means, stop in and get your paperwork rolling. If we’re really busy, go do some other shopping or errands and tell me (or your local FFL) you’re coming back after lunch in a few hours.

The retailer can call in the transaction and deal with it later and it lets us deal with the folks standing in line while you get other things done.

Many retailers are offering extended hours until Christmas, so you may consider taking advantage of that as well. Keep in mind that there’s probably a ton of other people doing the same thing and you likely won’t save much time — but your 4473 and firearm will be out the door that day.

Special Requests: You Are Not a Beautiful, Unique Snowflake

This is something I’ve never quite understood with other dealers. One dealer I know offers gift wrap around Christmas. There’s only one problem. He’s a little bit older and absolutely terrible when it comes to the art of gift wrapping.

He means well and has good intentions, but poor execution. Know what you’re good at and stick to that.

I call in the local Boy Scout troop that just got their merit badges from the gun club and ask them if they want to set up a station for gift wrap and accept donations. It supports a good cause and that’s one less thing I have to deal with as a retailer.

If you’re looking for something special, Christmas is often not the time to be buying it. Warehouses run behind on shipping. Fedex and UPS experience delays due to their package volume doubling or tripling. Many retailers are simply not going to have the time to order in special items and get them mounted/set up just the way you want it before the 24th.

All of this can complicate with your gift-giving plans.

As a wise man once said, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one. Especially at this time of year.

I can’t tie up two counter staff and a gunsmith during the busiest month of the year with a store full of people just to finish your project in time when your special custom parts arrive the morning of December 23rd. Assuming they arrive.

Keep in mind also that many manufacturers are closed for a few days around Thanksgiving/Christmas so their productivity in cranking out special requests is often back-burnered until after the holidays.

Many smaller manufacturers have to do a distributor show in January and SHOT Show to show off their new products. Frequently a lot of their sales/technical staff accompany them on said road shows for the better part of three weeks and nobody is truly caught up until mid February.

As a result, over the years I’ve seen poorly-planned Christmas gifts turn into highly inappropriate Valentines Day presents.

If buying online, be wary of the OUT OF STOCK or BACK ORDER labels as you could be in for a long wait.

All of which is to say…get out there and get your items as soon as you can. Or expect delays and possibly disappointment.

Hopefully this gives you some insight into what happens behind the scenes and the potential problem areas that we run into this time of year when tensions are high, the eggnog isn’t spiked with enough hooch.

What problems have you had trying to buy guns post Black Friday in the past?

comments

  1. avatar Eric says:

    Even if your state is constitutional carry you should get a permit to conceal if offered. There is a good chance it will exempt you from a NICS check at point of sale.

    1. avatar WI Patriot says:

      In some states, yes, sadly in WI, no…

    2. avatar MLee says:

      In Washington State a CPL (Concealed Pistol License) does nothing anymore. After the passing of that idiotic I-1639 effective July 1st, all gun purchases don’t go through the FBI, they go through the police dept. at least here in Spokane. Even with my CPL and new UPIN, a pistol or semi-auto rifle purchase is taking weeks to a month to go through. Only pump action shotguns and bolt action rifles go through NICS.
      Gotta love I-1639, it even made it so a Washington resident can’t scoot across the border and buy a semi-auto in Idaho.

    3. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      Eric,

      A concealed carry license exempts you from NICS checks at point-of-sale in my state: alas almost all the gun stores insist on running NICS checks anyway because, “The state might have revoked your license and you refused to surrender it.”

      1. avatar Eric says:

        That’s absurd that they run it anyway.

        In the state of Nebraska you can’t even buy a handgun without either a Firearm Purchase Certificate, issued by the county or a Concealed Handgun Permit, issued by the state. Both of which exempt you from a NICS check.

        When I worked at a big box FFL here I could go weeks without running a NICS check. On the off chance that I did we used E-Check which almost always came back instantly.

      2. avatar Rusty - Always Carry - Chains says:

        That policy by Dicks was the reason I walked away from them almost 20 years ago. I won’t do any kind of business with a gun store with that attitude. There are too many good businesses that deserve your patronage to put up with that.

  2. avatar WI Patriot says:

    OH NO…not an entire hour, whatever will I do…??? /sar

    1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      I call that a “first-world problem”.

  3. avatar Green Mtn. Boy says:

    Just another of the infringements on a right.

  4. avatar Guesty McGuesterson says:

    The big boy in the top photo looks like he’s buying a big boy gun. .44 Mag?

    1. avatar Splain says:

      More like .500 S&W

      Will be on Ammolist by February. “Like new with box of ammo. Only five rounds through it.”

      1. avatar Geoff "Run, Bloomie, run!" PR says:

        That ad will be for the Ruger Alaskan in .44 mag with a snub-nose…

  5. avatar Merle 0 says:

    Last holiday season I bought a gun and the NICS wait time was under 10 minuets.

    1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      A couple of years ago I milled/assembled another 80% frame gun and never even had to go through NICS.

    2. avatar Defens says:

      Most of my NICS checks have been under 10 minuets. On occasion they’ve been longer than a couple of fueges, or even a tocata.

    3. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      Merle O,

      I have a concealed carry license and all of my NICS checks have been quite literally instantaneous. The gun store clerk isn’t even finished uttering his/her last syllable about my information when he/she stops and confirms the “proceed” and starts writing down what I presume is a confirmation number.

  6. avatar former water walker says:

    No plans on buying a gat before the new year. Ammo & AR15 accessories yes. Oh and I live in ILLinois and have never had a long delay(Cabelas was pathetically slow & disorganized but that’s another story)! Funny about the unusual name. I got one. This article was insanely l o n g…

  7. avatar M1Lou says:

    I’ve been seeing more delays for people buying guns here in VA over the past month. My purchases sailed on through. They must have common names.

  8. avatar UpInArms says:

    Well, shit. Cabelas is offering a SIG P365 for $400 bucks. But that price is good for only 5 days starting next Wednesday- day before TG. I’ve never had to wait more than about 2 minutes for the NICS check to go through, but if I gotta wait, oh well. Plenty of stuff in that store to look at. Not that I haven’t seen most of it already. I guess I could go over to the deli and get a bison hamburger.

    1. avatar enuf says:

      Been waiting on Cabela’s/Bass Pro to do a decent sale on the Ruger PC Carbine, where the regular price is $549. Sportsman’s Warehouse has marked it down a couple of times and the latest ad has it at $479. By my credit card points are on my Cabela’s card.

      Trapped by an errant sense of thrift and financial responsibility, that’s me …..

  9. avatar enuf says:

    uncommon_sense says:
    November 20, 2019 at 14:33

    Eric,

    A concealed carry license exempts you from NICS checks at point-of-sale in my state: alas almost all the gun stores insist on running NICS checks anyway because, “The state might have revoked your license and you refused to surrender it.”
    ———————————————————————————–

    Well, in my state of both Constitutional Carry and Shall Issue Permits for those who want them, the permit also means no NICS. Were an FFL to tell me I had to wait on an NICS regardless of my permit, I’d tell the man “You know what? I can see you like this gun more than I do. You keep it, I’ll go find another someplace else”.

    That has not happened to me.

    In fact I’d say the cost of the permit and the renewal every five years has been more than offset by not having to pay an extra NICS fee on top of the basic transfer fee on my online gun buys. I’m not a heavy buyer and seller by any means, just enough though the permit has saved me money.

  10. avatar Nanashi says:

    Remember next time you’re asked to donate that the NRA is personally and directly responsible for this infringement. They should owe YOU money.

  11. avatar Background Check this ROPE! says:

    A Human Natural Right does not require permission….what we have allowed to happen in this republic is disgusting!

    Its been LOOOOOOOOOONG ….overdue for more than 100 years… to get to work with rope…..those who do not think so are the problem…..our fathers,,,,grandfathers let us down!

    The free trade of personal property is not withing the government purview…in fact they are supposed to be standing up for our rights…but, they attack the limitations put upon them & violate the Constitution which is a limit on Government!

    The 2nd Amendment was put in place as a declaration & Warning to government u cannot touch this right…yet we have politicians thinking that Congress with a majority vote can do away with this!

    I wonder if they are ready for pure hell & losing everything they have forever?

    It would be wise for these tyrants to leave this Super Volcano Alone!

    Hell will need to build on for these fools!

  12. avatar Joel E Vannatta says:

    2 years ago I bought a handgun on black Friday. Due to the great amount of people that needed background checks I wasn’t able to pick up the gun until Monday. While I still think this is reasonable I am just glad I didn’t make my purchase at the Bass Pro Shops which is 70 miles away

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