Gun stores like Federal Firearms Licensees (FFL) handle hundreds of thousands of background checks each year for their customers. It can be a somewhat emotional process for the buyer. You have decided to buy a firearm. You have bought. You have found the one that suits you best and have calculated the best price with the dealer you want to work with. You are ready to buy. Now comes the background check. If you are new to this process, nervousness and uncertainty are not uncommon. What will be the result? Will you be able to buy the firearm that you already believe is yours, or all your careful work to make your selection in vain? It can be even more stressful if you are trying to recover a firearm that you have temporarily used, perhaps a family heirloom. Most gun and pawn shops have seen almost every setting. While complications do occur, this doesn’t have to be a scary process.
A little knowledge helps alleviate most fears. First, let’s explain a little what the background check system is. Background checks for the purchase of firearms became the law of the land with the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, and on November 1, 1998 individual states were given the option to use the national system for this or establish your own. In my state, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation started TICS, or the TBI Instant Check System. The Tennessee State Legislature mandated that the system must meet or exceed the requirements established by the Brady Act. In addition to the verification with the TBI records, the TICS unit performs a verification with the NICS (National Instant Verification System) of both the potential buyer and the firearm they intend to buy. This ensures that the person is legally able to purchase a firearm and that there is nothing negative about the history of the firearm itself, in the case of firearms previously owned.
The details of running the check are pretty simple. The FFL (federal firearms licensee or gun dealer) charges ten dollars, all of which is then forwarded to the state for the check. The prospective buyer enters their identity information on the TICS website, and the dealer confirms that it is you by using their state-issued photo ID. Don’t forget to bring your license! Usually in a short time, the result will return. Sometimes, however, verification can take longer. Computers may stop working or run slowly. It’s generally best to leave about 30 minutes before the gun store closes to begin the background check and give yourself time to complete your purchase.
Very good, but what about the results? All states produce a ‘Pass’ or ‘Denied’ result. Approved means that there was nothing on the check to delay the process. Denied means that something was returned on the check that could preclude the purchase of the firearm or the purchaser. It is also important to know that this is a rare case. On average, from 1999 to 2010, only about 2% of purchases were denied due to a background check. If the denial concerns the buyer’s background, the good news is that the verification results can be appealed. It’s important to remember that sometimes incorrect, incomplete, or out-of-date information can still reside in people’s records even after it’s supposed to be cleared up. Any of this can be due to a wide range of reasons. Of those denied that were appealed, more than half were annulled and the buyer was able to continue with his purchase. Just remember, if you think you’ve been denied and you shouldn’t have, you can appeal, and your gun store will have information on how to begin your appeal process.
In addition to ‘Approved’ and ‘Denied’, some states, including Tennessee, will sometimes return a ‘Conditional Procedure’ result as well. Basically what this means is that there was something in the background check so the system couldn’t resolve the disposition. The law states that the arms dealer may, “at his sole discretion”, deliver the weapon to the buyer. This opens up a whole litany of potential post-sale complications, including the need to claim the firearm by BATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives).
I don’t particularly like the fact that Tennessee offers the result of “Conditional Procedure” for several reasons. First, the customer pays for an answer; whether it’s a yes or a no, no uncertainty. Second, it legally exposes the armory to a potential civil lawsuit. We live in a country where anyone can sue anyone for anything at any time, and we do so frequently. An honest gun shop owner does not need a bully’s family to sue him because he made the decision in his “sole discretion” to sell a firearm to a person who used it to legally defend himself against the bully, for example. It has happened to distributors before. I believe that a smart store owner will only throw a firearm at a buyer who passes the background check with a result of ‘Pass’. Rather than selling a firearm to a person at their sole discretion, a smart store owner will rely on the government to provide the discretion. Unfortunately, the “Conditional Procedure” result can create confusion and frustration when a dealer fails to launch a firearm based on this dubious result. Among the armory dealers I know, I do not know of any who are published in ‘Conditional Proceed’. As with a “Denial” result, a “Conditional Procedure” can be reversed through the same appeal process.
The important thing to remember about a firearm background check is that the process is not about judging your worth as a person. It’s about making sure that firearms are only sold to people who are legally authorized to buy them. Sometimes the systems used by the government are slow or incomplete in their information. If you think you should be legally allowed to exercise your Second Amendment rights, but your background check says otherwise, there is a remedy. While it will often take several days or sometimes even a few weeks for the result to change to reflect the correct information, all is not lost. Just follow the rules and be patient. So, remember to bring your driver’s license, leave about 30 minutes before the store closes for the background check, be patient, and breathe easy. Your gun store owner or dealer is there to help.