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Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2001

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2002 202/307-0703


An Estimated 8 Million Prospective Purchasers Checked

WASHINGTON, D.C.- The Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today that nearly 2 percent of the 8 million applications made by U.S. residents to purchase or transfer firearms were rejected in 2001.

The 2001 rejection rate for firearms purchases is similar to the rejection rate of prior years. From the beginning of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act on March 1, 1994, through December 31, 2001, almost 38 million applications were made to federally licensed dealers, of which about 840,000 or about 2 percent were rejected, according to a new BJS bulletin on firearm sales and transfers.

The Brady statute requires state or local agencies or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to conduct background checks on the eligibility of applicants to buy or otherwise acquire handguns or rifles. Applicants may be rejected for having a criminal record or being otherwise ineligible under federal or state law.

The system of background checks established in the Brady Act was implemented by the FBI as the National Instant Criminal Background Check System or NICS. The NICS is a partnership between the states and the FBI. About half the applications for a firearm purchase are submitted to a state or local agency as the point of contact to the NICS while the other half are directly submitted to the FBI for processing.

During 2001, applications for firearms purchase and carry permits distributed as follows:

Submitted to Number of Applications Number of Rejections Rejection Rate
State/Local Agencies 3,666,000 86,000 2.3%
FBI 4,292,000 64,500 1.5%
Total 7,958,000 151,000   1.9%

About 58 percent of rejections in 2001 were due to applicants' felony convictions or indictments; 14 percent were rejected for a domestic violence misdemeanor conviction or restraining order. Other reasons for rejection included state or local law prohibitions (7.5 percent); fugitives (6 percent); mental illness or disability (1 percent); drug addiction (1 percent); and the remainder for other reasons (12 percent) such as having a dishonorable discharge from the armed services or being an illegal alien.

Federal law prohibits the sale of firearms to any person who:

  • is a juvenile
  • is a fugitive from justice
  • is under indictment for, or has been convicted of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year
  • is an unlawful user of a controlled substance
  • has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution
  • is an alien unlawfully in the United States
  • was discharged from the armed services 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, or
  • is a person who has been convicted of domestic violence

Persons prevented by a background check from receiving a firearm or a permit may be subject to arrest and prosecution if they are wanted in an outstanding warrant or have submitted false information on their applications. About 1,900 arrests were reported by 7 states providing data in 2001. In addition the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) reported 175 arrests in Fiscal 2001.

The bulletin, "Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2001" (NCJ-195235), was written by BJS staff members Devon B. Adams and Matthew J. Hickman, and Michael Bowling and Gene Lauver, of the Regional Justice Information Service. Single copies may be obtained by calling the BJS Clearinghouse at 1-800-851-3420. In addition, this document can be accessed at:


For further information about the Bureau of Justice Statistics and other OJP programs, please see the OJP Website at: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov

Media calls should be directed to David Hess in OJP's Office of Congressional and Public Affairs at [email protected] or 202-307-0703. After hours: 877-859-8704. 

Date Published: September 22, 2002