Background Checks

When firearms are sold without background checks, our schools,
communities, and public places are less safe. That’s why Sandy Hook Promise
supports legislation to expand the requirement for background checks. 

what are background checks?

Background checks are an essential tool to help keep guns from getting into the hands of individuals who may harm themselves or others. Running a background check before a firearm purchase helps identify people who are prohibited by federal law from owning them, such as convicted felons and domestic abusers. This system keeps guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

Background checks save lives. Since the federal background check requirement was enacted in 1994, more than 3 million illegal gun sales have been stopped by a background check.1

What's not working with the current background check system?

A loophole in our current law gives prohibited people an easy and dangerous way to buy guns. Federal law only requires background checks when the gun seller is a licensed dealer. Unlicensed private sellers, including sales at gun shows and online, aren’t required to perform background checks on the people they sell guns to. In 2015, 22% of Americans who had acquired a gun in the two years prior reported doing so without a background check.2

This loophole has devastating consequences. In Midland-Odessa, TX in 2019, the shooter failed a background check at a licensed dealer, but he went on to purchase his weapons online. Seven people were killed.

State laws that have closed the private sale loophole and expanded background checks for all handgun sales are associated with lower rates of firearm homicides, suicides and gun trafficking.3

Is there support for background checks?

Yes. More than 97% of Americans, including gun owners, support universal background checks4, as well as roughly 89% of Republicans.5

How long do background checks take?

At least 90% of NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) background checks provide an answer almost immediately.6 The average processing time for an electronic NICS check is 107 seconds.7

Are background checks accurate?

The FBI’s quality control evaluations suggest that background checks are accurate approximately 99.3 to 99.8% of the time.8 Background checks rarely provide false-positive results.

Which states have expanded their background check laws?

As of January 2020, 21 states (CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, IA, IL, MA, MD, MI, NC, NE, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OR, PA, RI, VT, and WA) and DC have passed legislation to extend the federal background check requirement to cover at least some forms of private sale.9

How can we pass background check legislation?

H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021, passed the U.S. House of Representatives on March 11 with overwhelming support. If signed into law, nearly every gun sale occurring in the U.S. would be subject to a background check, including so-called “private sales” at gun shows and over the internet. 

We now call on the Senate to take action. Sign the Petition 

Help us advocate for background checks now
On March 11, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to support background checks on all firearm sales. Now, it’s time for the Senate to act to move this lifesaving solution forward.

1. Karberg JC, et al., “Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2015—Statistical Tables,” US Department of Justice: Bureau of Justice Statistics (2017).

2. Miller M, Hepburn L, Azrael D. Firearm acquisition without background checks: results of a national survey. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2017; 166(4):233-239

3. Webster D, Crifasi CK, Vernick JS. Effects of Missouri’s Repeal of Its Handgun Purchaser Licensing Law on Homicides. J Urban Health. 2014 Jun; 91(3):598-601.

4.  Quinnipiac University Poll. Support for universal background checks is itself almost universal, 97 – 2 percent, including 97 – 3 percent among gun owners. Feb. 20, 2018.

5. Quinnipiac University. U.S. Voters Oppose Trump Emergency Powers On Wall 2-1 Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; 86% Back Democrats’ Bill On Gun Background Checks. March 6, 2019.

6. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Justice Information Services. National Instant Criminal Background Check System Celebrates 20 Years of Service. November 30, 2018.

7. Federal Bureau of Investigation. About NICS. (n.d.).

8. Office of the Inspector General, “Audit of the Handling of Firearms Purchase Denials Through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System,” US Department of Justice, September 2016.

9. Giffords Law Center. Universal Background Checks. (n.d.).