Jim and sarah brady bill clinton passing brady background checks into law

What are Brady Background Checks?

Jim and sarah brady bill clinton passing brady background checks into law

The Brady Background Check System is the critical underpinning for all gun violence prevention laws. Without this foundational measure, no other gun laws can properly function. To pass Brady Background Checks, Jim and Sarah Brady worked alongside the organization that now bears their name – Brady – for seven years. Together, they navigated the halls of Congress, meeting with legislators from both sides of the aisle, to generate enough votes to pass the “Brady Bill.”

Today, the Brady Background Check System requires all federally licensed firearms (FFL) dealers to run checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) These background checks prevent certain categories of prohibited purchasers from obtaining a gun.

Who is prevented from purchasing a firearm under the Brady Background Check System?

Under the Gun Control Act (1968), certain categories of people are prohibited from possessing firearms. This includes individuals:

  • Who have been convicted in court of a crime punishable by a prison sentence longer than one year,

  • Who are a fugitive from justice,

  • Who are unlawful users of or are addicted to any controlled substance,

  • With disqualifying mental illnesses or those committed involuntarily to a mental institution,

  • Who are not legal residents of the U.S.,

  • Who have received a dishonorable discharge from the military,

  • Who have renounced their U.S. citizenship,

  • Who are subject to a qualifying restraining order,

  • Who have been convicted of a qualifying domestic violence misdemeanor.

The background check system also works to stop sales to those who are prohibited under state law.


We know Brady Background Checks save lives.

Between 1993 and 2018, after Brady Background Checks were enacted, the firearm homicide rate among those 12 years of age and older decreased by 41% and the rate of firearm injury decreased 76% over the same period.

Liz Background Checks


Liz Background Checks

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is the federal system that checks available records to determine if a prospective firearm transferee is legally permitted to possess and receive a firearm. This system, which was created by the Brady Bill, is essential to keeping guns out of the hands of individuals who should not possess them and is a vital tool for FFLs to ensure that gun sales are legal. NICS is operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and tracks data related to each Brady Background Check initiated.

Since it was established in 1998, there have been more than 300 million Brady Background Checks initiated through the system. The Brady Background Check system has blocked nearly 4.9 million prohibited purchasers from obtaining a firearm.

When an FFL initiates a background check for a gun sale, NICS returns one of three possible replies: “proceed,” “denied,” or “delayed.” About 90% of determinations are returned within mere minutes of initiating a background check. If the Brady Background Check does not show that the purchaser has prohibiting background information, such as a felony conviction, and receives a “proceed,” the transfer can move forward as long as there are no other red flags that the sale would be unlawful, and the dealer wishes to proceed (the dealer can decline to sell a firearm for any reason).

However, in some cases, records in the system are unclear, and the FBI needs more time to research the buyer’s eligibility to purchase a firearm. In these situations, federal law allows the FFL to move forward with the sale after three business days have elapsed without the NICS returning a “proceed” or “denied” response. This is known as a “default proceed” and often referred to as the “Charleston Loophole,” named after such a transfer was completed in 2015 to a white supremacist and prohibited individual who subsequently used the purchased firearm to massacre nine Black parishioners at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Since 2008, over 54,000 prohibited purchasers have obtained firearms from FFLs through this process.


Why are Expanded Background Checks Necessary?

Numerous crimes have been linked to guns purchased without background checks. For example, the gunman who killed seven individuals and injured 25 in the 2019 mass shooting in Midland/Odessa, Texas, used an AR-15 style rifle which he purchased in a private sale without a background check. He previously failed a NICS background check in 2014 because a court deemed him mentally unfit to own a firearm. The shooter in the 2022 St. Louis school shooting, used an AR-15 style rifle and 600 rounds of ammunition he purchased without a background check through a private sale facilitated using Armslist, a major online firearms marketplace. Just two weeks prior, the shooter failed a NICS background check because his family had him committed to a mental institution multiple times.

Today, with the rise of the internet and gun shows,

1 in 5

guns are sold through private sales which do not require a Brady Background Check.

Federal Legislation

The overwhelming majority of guns recovered in crime in states that have expanded background check requirements come from states that do not have background check requirements, further highlighting the need for federal action.

The following federal bills would help to block unlawful gun transfers to those legally barred from firearm possession.

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    Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2023 & Background Check Expansion Act

    In 2023, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT introduced the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2023 & Background Check Expansion Act. These bills would expand Brady Background Checks to cover nearly all sales and transfers of firearms, including at gun shows, private sales facilitated over the Internet, classified ads, or other private transfers.

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    Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2023

    To address the deadly Charleston Loophole, Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) introduced the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2023 to provide the FBI with additional time to complete the background checks before guns may be sold. This legislation changes the background check requirement such that the FBI would have a minimum of 20 days to complete a background check before an FFL can transfer a firearm to a prospective purchaser. It establishes due process protections for firearm purchasers and prevents indefinite bureaucratic delays by simply giving the FBI additional time to fully investigate incomplete background checks.

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State Legislation

In the absence of federal action to expand background checks, states must take the initiative to expand and strengthen their background check systems. Unless a state explicitly expands its background check system, only firearms purchases made through an FFL are required to undergo a background check, meaning that any transaction made through a private seller may be legally completed without a background check. 

The private sale loophole enables about every 1 in 5 guns to be sold today without any background check through private transactions, gun shows, and websites that facilitate private gun sales. It is crucial that states are empowered to ensure that prohibited individuals don’t gain access to deadly weapons through the private sale loophole. If passed, state-directed expansion of background checks would have a tangible impact on the lives of those at risk.

Today, 21 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation to expand the federal Brady Background System, which means over 166 million Americans are now subject to more extensive background checks.

We know that expanded background checks save lives.  A 2019 study found that U.S. states with universal background checks for all gun sales had homicide rates 15% lower than states without these laws over a 26 year period, and states without universal background check laws export crime guns across state lines at a 30% higher rate than states that require background checks on all gun sales.

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