How Long Does A Background Check Take For A Gun?

If you are thinking of buying a gun, then you must be wondering, “How long does a background check take for a gun?

Luckily, there are many ways to buy a gun in the U.S. You can get them from a licensed store, a gun show, an online store, a retail outlet, etc.

However, to ensure such dangerous weapons do not fall into the hands of a potentially dangerous person, you are required to appear for a background check.

So, how long does this process take? What can debar you from purchasing a gun?
Keep on reading to find out answers to all your burning questions!

How Long Does A Background Check Take For A Gun

History of Background Check For a Gun

Before you find out how long does a background check takes for a gun, it is important to know about gun background check laws and how they came about.

The Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed in response to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. And this act prohibited some people, such as substance abusers, fugitives, etc., from buying guns.

This act also made it compulsory for firearms sellers to obtain a Federal Firearms License (FFL) and meet some additional requirements.

Consequently, in 1993, a new act was passed known as the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act or Brady Law when Press secretary Jim Brady was killed during an assassination.

According to the Brady law, all FFLs are required to run background checks on people who want to purchase a gun through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). And this is the reason why you have to appear for a background check if you want to purchase a gun.

How Does a Background Check For Guns Work?

How Does a Background Check For Guns Work

If you are interested in purchasing a gun, then first up, you will have to fill out the 4473 form, which is also known as Firearms Transaction Record. After you fill out the form, the gun seller will run your information through NICS by contacting the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

This check is usually done via a computer or a phone, and the buyer will also be asked to provide a government-issued I.D.

It would take about 30 seconds to run a background check through NICS. If your record is clean, then you will be able to purchase the gun. However, if something disqualifies you, you will not be able to purchase the gun.

To sell the gun, the dealer would also record information about the gun being sold, its model number, caliber/gauge and serial number, manufacturer, type, etc. Also, it is mandatory for the seller to retain the FTR irrespective of whether the sales are made or not.

The NICS background check usually takes only a few minutes to complete.

And the validity of the NICS background check is 30 days, and it covers only a single transaction.

According to the FBI, approximately 92% of the checks render an instant verdict. Only in about 8% of cases the verdict is delayed, and the seller has to wait for three days. As per the Brady law, if the verdict does not come through in three days, then the person can go ahead and sell the gun.

What Can Disqualify a Person From Buying a Gun?

What Can Disqualify a Person From Buying a Gun

Based on federal or state law, the NICS must deny a person from buying a gun under some circumstances. The reason for prohibition includes:

Drug Use or Criminal History

  • The interested gun buyer has been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.
  • If the person is a fugitive.
  • Is a user of or is addicted to prohibited substances or drugs.
  • Is under indictment for a crime that is subjected to imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.

Domestic Violence

  • If the person has been registered for domestic violence.
  • If the person has a restraining order from stalking, harassing, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner.

Mental Health

  • If the person has been committed to a mental institution or has been adjudicated as mentally defective.

Dishonorable Discharge

  • If the person has been discharged dishonorably from the Armed Forces.


  • If the person has been renounced U.S. citizenship.
  • If the person has a non-immigrant visa or has been staying unlawfully in the U.S. 

Apart from this, Felony conviction is the most common reason that could deny a person from purchasing a gun. Felong conviction has resulted in 865,910 denials during the 21 years that NICS has been in operation.

Additionally, over 148,000 unlawful drug users, 212,000 domestic offenders189,000 fugitives, and 43,000 mentally unsound people have also been blocked.

From Where Does Gun Background Check System Get All This Information?

From Where Does Gun Background Check System Get All This Information

To find out if a person should be disqualified from buying a gun, the FBI draws information from three sources:

  • Interstate Identification Index: This is a giant repository of criminal convictions.
  • National Crime Information Center: This is like an electronic clearing house for criminal justice records.
  • NICS Indices: This shows records collected by the local, state, or federal government that specifically flag people who should not be allowed to buy guns.

How long Does A Background Check Take For A Gun?

Background Check for gun

The background check for a day could take anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. The federal and state governments also mandate different waiting periods for a gun. Let us look at them:

Federal law

As mentioned before, a background check for guns only takes a few minutes. If your record is clean, then you can buy the gun immediately. If your background check highlights any disqualifications, then you will not be able to purchase the gun.

In case of any delay by the NICS, you need to wait for three days, and if you do not hear a verdict even in three days, then you can go ahead and purchase the gun.

State Law

There are ten states currently that have a gun waiting period. In addition, Washington DC, has some extra regulations that require a waiting period for purchasing certain types of firearms.

There are also some states that require a license and permit to purchase a gun. These restrictions make the waiting period for purchasing a gun a bit lengthy.

So, the waiting period for a background check to purchase a gun could range from 3-14 days, depending on which state you live in.

Waiting Period for Guns By State

There are two things that determine the waiting period for guns. One is the type of gun and second is the state of purchase. Let us look at the waiting period for different types of guns by state:

For all Firearms

StateWaiting Period
District of Columbia10 days
California10 days
Colorado3 days
Rhode Island7 days (unless the purchaser is a law enforcement officer.)
Hawaii 14 days
Illinois 72 hours
Florida3 days


StateWaiting Period
Iowa3 days
New Jersey7 days
Maryland 7 days

States Imposing Waiting Periods for Certain Classes of Weapons

StateWaiting Period
Minnesota30 days
Washington 10 days


Wrap Up

A lot of people who purchase a gun do not have violent intentions. However, background check is a must to ensure such life-threatening weapons are not handed over to dangerous people.

So, how long does a background check take for a gun? If your record is clean and everything goes well without any hiccups, then it should not take more than a few minutes for you to obtain a gun.

However, certain states, as mentioned in the article above, might involve a longer waiting period.


What can be the reasons for NICS delay in gun background check?

If you do not get a background check result in a few minutes, then your NICS might show two results:

  • Denied status: If your information matches a profile that has federal or state firearm prohibition. In case the NICS rejects your request, you can take a few actions to appeal your status.
  • Delayed status: This means the NICS needs some more time to verify your information.

When is NICS available?

The NICS is available 17 hours a day, seven days a week, except for Christmas. And the NICS E-Check is available 24/7.

Where do the NICS provide services?

The NICS offers services to the FFLs in 31 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories. Additionally, it provides partial service to six states. And the remaining 13 states perform their own background checks through NICS.

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