Expanding NICS Firearm Checks for Individuals Under Age 21 with the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA), which was signed into law on June 25, 2022, is intended to provide added protection by strengthening background checks for firearm purchases by transferees who are under 21 (U21) years old.

How NICS works 

As required by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 (Brady Act), the FBI established the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to centralize background checks for firearm transfers. Per the Brady Act, either the FBI or an agency designated by a state government will conduct background checks on individuals who wish to receive a firearm as part of a firearm transfer from a federal firearms licensee (FFL).

As part of the transaction between the FFL and an applicant to receive a firearm, the applicant will complete ATF Form 4473. The FFL uses the NICS E-Check system or calls NICS to initiate the background check. NICS then searches the Interstate Identification Index, the National Crime Information Center, and NICS Indices to determine whether any disqualifying factors would prohibit the firearm transfer. Examples of prohibitors are being a fugitive from justice, being convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year of imprisonment, and being subject to a restraining order. The list of 11 major categories of prohibitors is listed in Title 18, United States Code (U.S.C.), section 922(d)(1) through (11).

When NICS processes a background check for a firearm transfer, NICS provides the FFL one of three responses:

  • “Proceed,” which means NICS searches did not return any prohibiting records matching the prospective transferee’s biographic information, and the FFL can proceed with the firearm transfer
  • “Deny,” which means NICS searches returned records matching the prospective transferee’s biographic information, and the record(s) contains a federal or state prohibitor. In these instances, the FFL is advised to deny the firearm transfer.
  • “Delay,” which means NICS searches returned records matching the prospective transferee’s biographic information, but additional research needs to be conducted to determine the transferee’s eligibility. NICS will delay firearm transfers to allow time for the NICS staff to contact judicial and/or law enforcement agencies for more information.

The Brady Act allows three business days for the background check, after which the firearm transfer may proceed if no prohibitors have been found.

What the U21 provision of BSCA does

Potential firearm purchasers who are under 21 years old may not have adult criminal or adjudicatory records that would prohibit their firearm purchase. But those young potential transferees might have juvenile records that would qualify as prohibitors for firearm purchases if the juvenile records could be considered in the NICS process. Possible prohibitors for firearm purchases can include use of unlawful controlled substances, court orders with firearm restrictions, or mental health adjudications.

BSCA requires an expanded background check for prospective firearm transferees under 21 years old. Under BSCA, when a prospective transferee is between 18 and 20 years old, NICS will send requests for more information based on the prospective transferee’s residential address to the following agencies with jurisdiction of the address:

  • State repositories of criminal history information or juvenile justice system
  • State custodians of juvenile mental health adjudication records
  • Local law enforcement agencies 

In addition to the three business days the Brady Act gives NICS to conduct a background check, BSCA allows a delay of seven additional business days for the NICS staff to conduct more research on the potential transferee if they receive a cause of possibly disqualifying information. 

The information that agencies provide to NICS can be vital to preventing active shooter incidents and saving lives in communities. The FBI urges state governments and law enforcement agencies to promptly respond to BSCA inquiries from NICS. The response itself is beneficial, even if the response is that no information is available or that state law prohibits the sharing of information.

U21 checks potentially save lives

In the winter of 2023, an applicant under age 21 attempted to purchase a firearm. Under BSCA, NICS immediately sent a request to the appropriate agencies for any potentially prohibiting juvenile information about the prospective transferee. In response to the request, an agency sent NICS a report stating the prospective transferee had attempted suicide, and social services had committed the individual to a mental health hospital. NICS verified the information and found that it met the criteria for denial of a firearm transfer under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4). As a result, NICS denied the firearm purchase. Without this important information, a disqualified, prohibited person would have received a gun.

How to learn more

State government or law enforcement agency representatives who have questions can contact NICS experts by phone at (844) 265-6716 or by email at NICSLiaison@fbi.gov.