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Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2000

SUNDAY, July 1, 2001 202/307-0784


About 2 percent of the requests were rejected

WASHINGTON, D.C. - About 153,000 of the approximately 7.7 million applications for firearms transfers or permits were rejected last year, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today.

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act mandates criminal history checks for applicants for firearms (long guns and handguns) transfers or permits. Background checks at the time of a firearms purchase are handled by agencies in 16 states. For the remaining states, firearms dealers contact the FBI directly to conduct the background check.

Since the inception of the Act on March 1, 1994, through December 31, 2000, about 689,000 of almost 30 million applications were rejected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or state and local agencies.

State and local agencies conducted 3.5 million checks last year and rejected 2.5 percent. The FBI processed 4.3 million applications and rejected 1.6 percent.

The additional requirement that background checks be conducted for long gun purchases beginning on November 30, 1998, had the effect of nearly tripling the number of checks conducted. In 1997, just over 2.5 million checks were conducted; in 1999, 8.6 million checks were conducted and in 2000, nearly 7.7 million checks were carried out, 11 percent less than in 1999. Almost all states experienced declines last year. The largest were in California and Indiana, by about 25 percent.

Of the 86,000 state and local rejections during 2000, felony convictions or indictments led to 58 percent, down from 73 percent in 1999. Among the other reasons state and local authorities turned down applications during 2000 were: 9 percent for domestic violence misdemeanor convictions; 3 percent for domestic violence restraining orders; state law prohibitions, 5 percent; fugitive status, 4 percent; and mental illness or mental disability, 1 percent.

The Federal Gun Control Act, 18 U.S.C. 922, prohibits the transfer of a firearm to a person who—

  • is under indictment for or has been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year
  • is a fugitive from justice
  • is an unlawful user or is addicted to any controlled substance
  • has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution
  • is an illegal alien or has been admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa
  • was discharged from the U.S. military service under dishonorable conditions
  • has renounced U.S. citizenship
  • is subject to a court order restraining him or her from harassing, stalking or threatening an intimate partner or child.
  • has been convicted in any court of a felony or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

In addition, the statute makes it unlawful for any licensed importer, manufacturer, dealer or collector to transfer a long gun to a person younger than 18 years old or any other type of firearm to a person less than 21 years old.

During 2000 all states had databases that recorded past felony convictions and many had data on other disqualifying factors. States differ on the degree of automation in record searching and whether records are in a central database or in databases maintained by county courts or other state or local agencies.

BJS surveys indicate that since the initiation of the Brady Act in March 1994 states have made substantial gains in the quality and accuracy of criminal history records. 

The report, "Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2000" (NCJ-187985), was written by Michael Bowling and Gene Lauver, of the Regional Justice Information Service, and BJS statistician Sidra Lea Gifford and BJS program manager Devon B. Adams. Single copies may be obtained from the BJS clearinghouse number: 1-800-851-3420. Fax orders for mail delivery to 410/792-4358.


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After hours contact: Stu Smith at 301/983-9354



Date Published: July 1, 2001