Printed on: January 17, 2013

How the National Instant Criminal Background Check System works in Idaho

By Alex Stuckey

Spurred by the mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., gun enthusiasts are stockpiling guns of all shapes and sizes to protect their right to bear arms.

The growing fervor to buy guns is reflected in the number of the FBI's firearm background checks conducted by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System from 2011 to 2012.

Background checks in Idaho were up 22 percent in 2012 over 2011.

A similar trend spread nationwide: Background checks increased about 16 percent during that same time frame.

But background checks don't even begin to account for the number of firearms sold. Only federal license holders -- manufacturers, importers and dealers -- have to run a background check before selling a gun. Gun shows and private dealers do not.

And with the Obama administration's Wednesday announcement of his sweeping plan to curb the nation's gun violence -- including strengthening background checks, reinstating and strengthening the assault weapons ban, and restoring a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines -- the rush to buy guns will only amplify.

136,482: The number of background checks in Idaho during 2012.

10: Ways to be rejected on a background check.

58.5: The percentage of people since 1998 rejected because of a conviction of a crime punishable by more than a year in prison or a misdemeanor punishable by more than two years -- the No. 1 reason to be rejected for a sale.

987,578: The number of people denied firearms in the United States since 1998. (Idaho numbers were not available.)

1: Major loophole -- gun shows and private dealers do not have to run background checks.

40: The estimated percent of all gun sales nationwide made by private sellers exempt from the federally required background checks.

17: The number of states that have taken steps to beef up background checks at gun shows, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

70: The number of mass shootings since the January 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., which killed six and wounded 13 others. Mass shootings are defined by incidents in which three or more people are shot, according to the Brady Campaign.

$500 million: The dollar amount tagged to a proposal Obama is calling on Congress to pass, which would help communities keep police officers on the streets and create legislation imposing penalties on individuals who help put guns in the hands of criminals.

An NICS background check instantly determines whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms or explosives. The goal: to save lives and protect people from harm by not letting guns and explosives fall into the wrong hands, according to the FBI's website.

How a background check works:

Step 1: A gun purchaser fills out a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives form.

Step 2: The licensed manufacturer, importer or dealer must review the information thoroughly and enter it into the NICS, either by telephone or Internet.

Step 3: It takes just a few minutes to run the gun purchaser's information through several databases, which house millions of records.

Step 4: The dealer will receive either a proceed or a transfer notice. A proceed notice means the potential buyer's information did not turn up in the system.

A transfer notice means the information will go through additional review by an NICS examiner. This means the potential buyer's information might be connected to information found in the system, but will need further examination.

A three-day window exists for the NICS to determine whether the sale is denied or pushed forward. A denial can be appealed by the potential purchaser.

These background checks prevent people who have bad things on their records from having guns, Idaho Falls Police Capt. Mark McBride said.

But there's only so much a background check can do.

"Once someone has a gun, they decide what they do with it -- we can't stop that," McBride said. "But these people (committing these mass shootings) are getting their guns through other means and aren't being background-checked. The current background checks are doing the job they were meant to do."

Alex Stuckey can be reached at 542-6755. Comment on this story on Post Talk at