The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is a point-of-sale system for determining eligibility to purchase a firearm in the United States of America. Federal Firearms License (FFL) holders are generally required by law to use the NICS to determine if it is legal to sell a firearm to a prospective purchaser. The NICS determines if the buyer is prohibited from buying a firearm under the Gun Control Act of 1968. It is linked to the National Crime Information Center and the Interstate Identification Index among other databases maintained by the FBI.
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is applicable to sales from federally licensed dealers. Sales of firearms by private sellers are allowed to proceed without a background check unless required by state law. These regulations remain in place at gun shows, where no special leniency is granted to licensed sellers, and no additional requirements are placed upon private sellers.
NICS is accessed by an FFL, on the firearm buyer's behalf, by phone or computer. When contacted by phone, the communication is either with an FBI/NICS Examiner, who directly receives the information submitted by the FFL, or by proxy through a Call Center representative, who forwards the information electronically to the NICS. Whether an Examiner or a Call Center representative is contacted depends on the state in which the sale is conducted. When using a computer, an FFL representative can submit the buyer's information using the E-Check system which is a web interface to the NICS. An FFL can be an individual or an organization such as a retail store. An organization registered as an FFL minimizes the overhead involved in managing identification for multiple individuals who are employed by the organization.
By law, an FFL must receive a response from the NICS within 3 days or the firearm sale can proceed, although they are not required to do so. If, after 3 days, the sale is completed and later it is determined the buyer should not have received the firearm, then the firearm must be retrieved.
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