National Issue

Background Checks

Expanded Background Checks are one of the most proven policies to prevent gun violence. 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 requirements 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 people convicted of a felony or domestic abuse. 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

Play video

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.

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

Yes. More than 97% of Americans, including gun owners, support expanded background checks4, as well as roughly 80% of Republicans.5

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

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.

As of June 2023, 20 states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) and Washington, DC, have passed legislation to extend the federal background check requirement to cover at least some forms of private sale.

Both chambers of Congress have introduced the Background Checks Expansion Act of 2023 (S.494 / H.R.715). 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.

Play video

Demand that the Senate take action.

Support Background Checks On All Firearm Sales. Now, It’s Time For Policymakers To Act To Move This Lifesaving Solution Forward.

Related Issues

National Issue

Temporary Transfer Orders, (i.e., Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) or “red flag laws”) empower family members, law enforcement, and other key individuals to respond to warning signs of potential violence or suicide.

  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. U.S. Support For Gun Control Tops 2-1, Highest Ever, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Let Dreamers Stay, 80 Percent Of Voters Say. 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.).