The NICS Improvement Act was enacted in the wake of the April 2007 shooting tragedy at Virginia Tech. The Virginia Tech shooter was able to purchase firearms from an FFL because information about his prohibiting mental health history was not available to the NICS and the system was therefore unable to deny the transfer of the firearms used in the shootings. The NICS Improvement Act seeks to address the gap in information available to NICS about such prohibiting mental health adjudications and commitments and other prohibiting backgrounds. Filling these information gaps will better enable the system to operate as intended to keep guns out of the hands of persons prohibited by federal or state law from receiving or possessing firearms.
The NICS is administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). A NICS check includes a check of three databases maintained by the FBI, including the:
- Interstate Identification Index (III), a database of criminal history record information,
- National Crime Information Center (NCIC) which includes information on persons subject to civil protection orders and arrest warrants, and
- NICS Index which includes the information contributed by federal and state agencies identifying persons prohibited from possessing firearms who are not included in the III or NCIC, such as persons with a prohibiting mental health history or who are illegal or unlawful aliens.
If a NICS check identifies a person as falling within a prohibited category, the FBI advises the FFL that the transfer is "denied." Individuals can appeal denials and seek the correction of the information in the FBI databases by either applying to the FBI or the federal or state agency that contributed the information to the FBI.
The NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007, Pub. L. 110-180 ("NICS Improvement Act"), was signed into law by the President on January 8, 2008. The NICS Improvement Act amends the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 ("the Brady Act") (Pub. L. 103-159), under which the Attorney General established the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The Brady Act requires Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to contact the NICS before transferring a firearm to an unlicensed person for information on whether the proposed transferee is prohibited from receiving or possessing a firearm under state or federal law.
The purpose of the Bureau of Justice Statistics' (BJS) NCHIP is to ensure that accurate records are available for use in law enforcement—including sex offender registry requirements—and to protect public safety and national security. Also, NCHIP permits states to identify—
For further information about NCHIP, visit the NCHIP section of our site.
At the State level, criminal records are usually maintained by the state police or public safety agency. You should contact this agency in your state concerning records they maintain.
At the Federal level, these records are maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Detailed instructions for requesting a copy of the record from the FBI are available at: https://forms.fbi.gov/fbi-efoia-request-form.
The NICS Improvement Act grant programs do not supplant NCHIP. Rather, the NICS Improvement Act grants are to be made in a manner "consistent with" and "in accordance with" NCHIP. The major difference from NCHIP is that the NICS Improvement Act grants may only be used for specified purposes related to achieving the completeness goals for the records directly related to NICS checks. In addition, the NICS Improvement Act authorizes a separate grant program for funding that is dedicated to be used by state courts systems, where most of the disposition information missing from the national repositories originates.
For further information on any of these topics, please email the Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison, U.S. Department of Justice.
The Act requires the Attorney General to establish for use by the states a methodology to calculate estimates of the total number of records in each of the subcategories of records subject to the grant program's reporting requirements. The Justice Department's Bureau of Justice of Statistics (BJS) has developed a data collection instrument setting forth this methodology to send to each state's National Criminal History Improvement Program (NCHIP) point of contact agency. In doing so, BJS coordinated with representatives of the state criminal justice information repositories, state court administrators, the National Center for State Courts, the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, and others to obtain input on state record-keeping practices to help inform the development of a methodology. The data collection, State Estimates of Available Records Information Collection, which has been approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), has been sent to each state for completion.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is available to answer questions about whether existing state laws meet the standards for state relief from disability programs contemplated in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Improvement Act. ATF is also available to provide technical assistance to states seeking to establish such programs under the Act. State questions and requests for assistance can be directed to ATF at [email protected] See also State Relief from Disabilities Program Criteria and Federal Relief From Disabilities Program Criteria.
For fiscal year 2009, $10 million has been appropriated. There are two conditions that each state must satisfy before being eligible to receive grants:
-- First, a state must provide to the Attorney General a "reasonable estimate," based on a methodology established by the Attorney General, of records subject to the Act's completeness requirements; and
-- Second, a state must certify, to the satisfaction of the Attorney General, that the state has implemented a program permitting persons who have been adjudicated a mental defective or committed to a mental institution to obtain relief from the firearms disabilities imposed by law as a result of such adjudication or commitment. This relief must be granted, in accordance with principles of due process, by a state court, board, commission, or other lawful authority. The relief must be based on a finding that the circumstances of the disability and the person's record and reputation are such that the person will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to the public safety and that the granting of relief would not be contrary to the public interest.
Before the enactment of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Improvement Act, a person's adjudication as a mental defective or commitment to a mental institution was effectively a lifetime prohibition. Concerns were expressed to Congress about the permanence of this prohibitor and the life-long effect it would have on persons whose mental health adjudication or commitment records would be provided to the NICS under the Act's provisions. To address these concerns, the Act included not only provisions to require or promote the sharing of information about this disability for use by the NICS, but also provisions that require or authorize the establishment of federal and state programs that allow individuals to seek relief from the federal mental health firearms disability.
The NICS Improvement Act seeks to improve the information available to the NICS, so that the system can more accurately identify prohibited persons, by:
-- Enhancing the Brady Act requirement that federal departments and agencies provide relevant information to the NICS; and
-- Providing incentives to states to submit complete information to the Attorney General on persons prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms through:
-- Authorizing new grant programs for state executive and judicial branch agencies to improve information sharing with NICS; and
-- Providing for Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program penalties for states that do not comply with the Act's record completeness goals.
Ten million dollars has been appropriated for fiscal year 2009. Additionally, the Byrne grant penalties are deferred until 2011, are discretionary from 2011 to 2017, and become mandatory in 2018.
No. Only records of court or other lawful authority findings or orders that the meet the above ATF definition, not medical records or other details underlying the findings or orders, are entered in the NICS Index. The records entered in the NICS Index include only a name and other biographic identifiers to identify a person in this category.
When information about such adjudications and commitments is provided to the NICS, the FBI can deny firearms transactions to persons with disqualifying mental health histories, both in the state where the record was created and in other states to which the individual may have subsequently moved.
The information in the NICS is subject to the Privacy Act and the privacy of the information is protected in a number of ways. The only responses provided by the NICS to a request for a NICS check is "Proceed," "Denied" or "Unresolved." In cases of a "Denied" response, neither the general prohibiting category nor information about the specific event that places an individual in that prohibited category is provided to the FFL. The individual, however, is able to request information about the reason for the denial and can appeal the denial and seek to correct incomplete or inaccurate information in the system upon which the denial is based.
In addition, as noted above, the information identifying mental health adjudications or commitments contributed by federal and state agencies is maintained in the NICS Index. The regulations governing the NICS limits the use of the NICS Index to: (1) checks under the Brady Act by FFLs of proposed firearms transferees; (2) checks by federal, state, or local criminal justice agencies in connection with the issuance of a firearms-related or explosives-related license or permit; and (3) requests by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in connection with civil or criminal law enforcement relating to the federal Gun Control Act (18 U.S.C. Chapter 44) or National Firearms Act (26 U.S.C. Chapter 53). Checks of the NICS Index for general law enforcement purposes are not permitted under the regulations. See 28 CFR. 25.6(j).
Finally, the NICS Improvement Act requires the Attorney General to work with state and local law enforcement and the mental health community to establish regulations and protocols specifically for protecting the privacy of information in the NICS relating to mental health. The Justice Department plans to engage in the required consultations on these regulations and protocols in the near future.
At the state level, criminal records are usually maintained by the state police or public safety agency. You should contact this agency in your state concerning records they maintain and the procedures for correcting or challenging the accuracy of information the records contain. At the federal level, criminal records are maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). An individual may request a copy of his or her own FBI Identification Record for personal review or to challenge information on the record. Other reasons an individual may request a copy of his or her own Identification Record may include international adoption or to satisfy a requirement to live or work in a foreign country (i.e., police certificate, letter of good conduct, criminal history background, etc.). Instructions for requesting a copy of the record from the FBI are available at: https://forms.fbi.gov/fbi-efoia-request-form.
Grant opportunities available through the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs are listed on the OJP website at https://ojp.gov/funding/index.htm. In addition, all federal grant opportunities – including those sponsored by the Department of Justice - are listed with Grants.gov at https://www.grants.gov/.
JUSTSTATS is an email notifying subscribers of new crime and justice statistical materials as they become available from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), FBI, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). To subscribe to JUSTSTATS, enter your name and email address into the "Stay Connected" box on our site.
The Office of Justice Programs' (OJP) Jobs page contains information about and methods of locating BJS employment opportunities as well as job openings from other ares of OJP. BJS employs a variety of positions to fulfill its mission.
BJS publications are available to view online for free and are not available in hardcopy. However, black and white photocopies of many BJS publications are available to order from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) website. Visit the OJP Publications section of the NCJRS site for an alphabetical listing of BJS publications and products that can be ordered. Simply select the icon associated with the item you are interested in receiving. The item will then be placed in your NCJRS shopping cart and you can either continue shopping or submit your order. NCJRS serves as the clearinghouse for BJS and other Office of Justice Programs bureaus and offices.
The mission of BJS is to collect, analyze, publish, and disseminate information on crime, criminal offenders, victims of crime, and the operation of justice systems at all levels of government. These data are critical to federal, state, and local policymakers in combating crime and ensuring that justice is both efficient and evenhanded.
The Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics is now an online resource available on the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics Online site. This site contains the following features:
- a navigation map and search engine
- spreadsheet versions of the tables
- an archive of material from past Sourcebooks
- updated tables as new data arrive and are available
The most recent print edition available in print is the 2003 edition. To learn more about the Sourcebook, visit Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics site.
In many instances, spreadsheets or other files have been grouped and compressed to speed downloads. These archival files are presented in .zip format, which must be expanded to view and use. Commercial and free expanders are available for most platforms. Go to Info-ZIP for free, portable, high-quality versions of the Zip and UnZip compressor-archive utilities.
You can subscribe to BJS' JUSTSTATS email list to get electronic notices of new crime and justice statistical materials as they become available from—
- Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)
Once you subscribe, you will receive an email notification from JUSTSTATS when updated or new information becomes available.
You may also be interested in subscribing the JUSTINFO, a biweekly electronic newsletter available from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS), BJS' clearinghouse. To view past issues of JUSTINFO or to subscribe, visit the JUSTINFO Newsletter section of the NCJRS website.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) was first established in 1979. To learn more about the history of BJS, visit the About BJS section of our website.
From 1987 to 2004, the percentage of trial courts requiring judges to hold a law degree increased from 87% to 88% in limited jurisdiction courts, and from 44% to 52% in general jurisdiction courts. More states established pre-bench and continuing education requirements for both limited and general jurisdiction trial judges in 2004 than in 1993, the first year such data were available.
From 1993 to 2004, the number of states with pre-bench education requirements for general jurisdiction judges increased from 23 to 30 and for limited jurisdiction judges, from 22 to 28. There was also a 23% increase in the number of states requiring general jurisdiction judges to continue enrolling in specific training courses during their tenure, and a 19% increase in the number of states requiring the same for limited jurisdiction judges.