Gun shops, as Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) handle hundreds of thousands of background checks every year for their customers. It can be a somewhat emotionally charged process for the purchaser. You have decided to purchase a firearm. You have shopped. You have found the one that fits you and worked out 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, some nervousness and uncertainty are not uncommon. What will the result be? Will you be able to purchase the firearm that you already feel is yours, or will all your careful work making your selection be for naught? It can be even more nerve-wracking if you are trying to reclaim a firearm that you have put into pawn temporarily, a family heirloom perhaps. Most gun and pawn shops have seen just about every scenario. While complications do happen, this does not have to be a fear-filled process.
A little knowledge helps to ease most fears. First, lets give a little exposition about what the background check system is. Background checks for firearm purchases became the law of the land with the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, and on November 1st, 1998 Individual states were given the option to use the national system for this or establish their own. In my state, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation began TICS, or the TBI Instant Checks System. The Tennessee State Legislature mandated that the system must meet or exceed the requirements established by The Brady Act. In addition to the check against the TBI’s records, the TICS unit runs a check against the NICS (National Instant Check System) on both the prospective purchaser and the firearm they intend to purchase. This assures that the person is legally able to purchase a firearm and that there is nothing negative in the history of the firearm itself, in the case of previously owned firearms.
The details of running the check are fairly simple. The FFL (Federal Firearm Licensee or gun dealer) collects ten dollars, all of which is later remitted to the state for the check. The prospective buyer enters their identity information into the TICS web site, and the dealer confirms it is you by way of your state issued photo ID. Don’t forget to bring your license! Usually in pretty short order, the result will come back. Sometimes, however, the check can take longer. Computers can go down and or run slowly. It is usually best to leave about 30 minutes before your gun shop closes to start your background check so you have time to complete your purchase.
So all well and good, but what about the results? All states produce a result of ‘Approved’ or ‘Denied’. Approved means there was nothing in the check to hold up the process. Denied means that something in the check came back that might preclude the purchase either on the firearm or on the purchaser. It is also important to know that this is a rare instance. On average from 1999 to 2010, only about 2% of purchases were denied due to a background check. If the denial is about the purchaser’s background, the good news is that the results of the check can be appealed. It is important to remember that sometimes, incorrect, incomplete or outdated information can still reside on peoples’ records even after it is supposed to be cleared up. Any of this can be for a whole range of reasons. Of those denied which were appealed, well over half were overturned and the purchaser was able to proceed with their purchase. Just remember, if you think you have been denied and should not have been, you can appeal, and your gun shop will have information on how to start your appeal process.
In addition to ‘Approved’ and ‘Denied’, a few states, Tennessee included, will also sometimes return a result of ‘Conditional Proceed’. Essentially what this means is that there was something in the background check, upon which the system could not resolve the disposition. The law states that the gun dealer may, ‘at their sole discretion’ release the firearm to the purchaser. This opens up a whole litany of potential post sale complications, including the necessity of reclaiming the firearm by BATFE (Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives).
I do not particularly like the fact that Tennessee offers the ‘Conditional Proceed’ result for a number of reasons. First the customer is paying for an answer; either a yes or a no, not uncertainty. Second, it legally exposes the gun shop to potential civil law suit. We live in a country where anyone can sue anyone for anything at any time, and frequently do. An honest gun shop owner does not need the family of a thug suing them because they made the decision at their ‘sole discretion’ to sell a firearm to a person who used it to legally defend themselves from said thug for instance. It has happened to dealers before. I believe that a smart shop owner will only release a firearm to a purchaser who passes the background check with an ‘Approved’ result. Rather than selling a firearm to a person at their sole discretion, a smart shop owner will rely on the government to provide the discretion. Unfortunately the ‘Conditional Proceed’ result can create confusion and frustration when a dealer will not release a firearm based on this dubious result. Among the gun shop dealers that I know, I don’t know of a single one who will release on ‘Conditional Proceed’. Just like with a ‘Denied’ result, a ‘Conditional Proceed’ can be overturned through the same appeal process.
What is important to remember about background checks for firearm purchases is that the process is not about judging your worth as a person. They are about making sure that firearms are only sold to people who are legally allowed to purchase them. Sometimes the systems employed by the government are slow or incomplete in their information. If you believe that you should legally be allowed to exercise your Second Amendment rights, but your background check says otherwise, there is a recourse. While it will often take several days or sometimes even a few weeks to get the result changed 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 shop owner and or dealer is there to help.