By a Biometrica staffer
In 2018, there were around 1.6 million applications for firearm transfers and permits that were subject to background checks under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (Brady Act). About 230,000 (1.4%) of these applications were denied, the Bureau of Justice Statistics said in a recent report. That’s a 11% decrease from 2016’s peak of 19.2 million applicants.
From the time that the Brady Act went into effect in 1994 to 2018, over 250 million applications were subject to background checks and nearly 3.8 million applications (1.5%) were denied. Findings in the report are based on the Firearm Inquiry Statistics (FIST) program, administered by the BJS. Felony convictions, indictments, or arrests accounted for nearly half (47%) of all denials in 2018.
The latest period for which the report has data available on is 2018. But data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has shown that 2020 was a record-setting year for firearm background checks. The Bureau conducted a record-high 40 million background checks on would-be gun buyers last year.
Meanwhile, there have been reports recently that the country’s gun violence epidemic is increasingly killing more American children and teenagers. Separately, the two most populous counties in the country — Los Angeles County, California, and Cook County, Illinois — are moving to tackle the problem of “ghost guns,” as law enforcement and the government continue to grapple with an ongoing rise in violent crime and homicides, more of which include a firearm than ever before.
However, according to the BJS report, the number of applications for firearm transfers and permits have been on the decline since the 2016 peak. Per the FBI’s more recent data too, background checks for firearms appear to be cooling off this year after 2020’s record-setting pace.
The FBI processes all National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) checks for federal firearms licensees (FFLs) in 30 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. It also processes NICS checks on only long gun applications for FFLs in seven states. As such, the FBI conducted NICS checks for 8.2 million applications for firearm transfers and permits in 2018, or almost half (49%) of all applications for the year. Of those applications, the FBI denied about 99,000 (1.4%).
State and local checking agencies conducted background checks for 8.5 million applications in 2018. State checking agencies received more than 7.2 million applications and denied about 97,000 (1.3%). Local checking agencies received over 1.3 million applications and denied about 34,000 (2.6%).
Of the 33 jurisdictions where state-level agencies did background checks or compiled local agency data on background checks, 13 conducted instant checks in 2018. These agencies received about 4.5 million applications for instant checks, the most common type of application, and denied 1.3% (61,000).
In 2018, state checking agencies in 16 states conducted background checks for exempt carry permits — the second-most common type of check they conducted. These agencies reported about 1.2 million applications for exempt carry permits and a denial rate of 1.1% (14,000 denied).
Felony convictions prompted about 45% of denials by the FBI, 21% by state checking agencies, and 15% by local checking agencies. The second-most common reason for denial was state law prohibitions (12%). These prohibitions accounted for about 17% of denials by both state and local agencies and 7.5% of denials by the FBI.
Drug use or addiction accounted for 11% of denials overall. A misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence was the reason given for about 7% of denials, and a protection or restraining order accounted for about 4%. About 6% of denials were for mental health commitments or adjudications.
FIST collects information on firearm applications, denials, and reasons for denial from state and local checking agencies and then combines it with data from the FBI’s NICS Section. FIST also collects data on denials that the FBI referred to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) Denial Enforcement and NICS Intelligence (DENI) Branch for investigation and possible prosecution.