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351. Presale Handgun Checks--Inquiries and Rejections

[In thousands (22,254 represents 22,254,000), except rates. For "Interim period" of 1994 to November 29, 1998 covered handgun purchases from licensed firearm dealers; beginning November 29, 1998 (effective date for the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, P.L. 103-159,1993) covers the transfer of both handguns and long guns from a Federal firearms licensee, as well as purchases from pawnshops and retail gun shops\]

1994- Interim period Permanent Brady
Inquiries 1999,
and period 1 Dec.
rejections 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 2 1998 3 1999 2000 2001
Applications and rejections:
  Applications received.............................. 22,254 2,483 2,706 2,593 2,574 2,384 893 8,621
  Applicatins rejected....................................................................... 536 62 41 70 69 70 20 204
    Rate......................................................................... 2.4 2.5 1.5 2.7 2.7 2.9 2.2 2.4

1 Represents from the Inception of the Brady Act on March 1, 1994 to 1999.
2 For period January 1 to November 29, 1998.
3 For period November 30 to December 31, 1999. Counts are from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and may include multiple transactions for the same application.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 1999, series NCJ 180882, June 2000.

* Methodology


State instant approval (instant check) systems require a seller to transmit a purchaser's application to a checking agency by telephone or computer; the agency is required to respond immediately or as soon as possible without delay.

Purchase permit systems require a prospective firearm purchaser to obtain, after background check, a government-issued document (called a permit, license, identification card, etc.) that must be presented to a seller to receive a firearm.

Exempt carry permit is a State carry permit (issued after a background check) that exempts the holder from a check at the time of purchase under an ATF ruling or State law.

Other type of approval systems require a seller to transmit a purchaser's application to a checking agency by mail, telephone, or computer; the agency is not required to respond immediately but must respond before the end of the statutory time limit.

Application for firearm transfer is information submitted by a person to a State or local checking agency to purchase a firearm or obtain a permit that can be used for a purchase; includes information submitted directly to a checking agency or forwarded by a prospective seller.

Transactions are inquiries to the Federal NICS system and may include more than one inquiry per application.

Rejection occurs when an applicant is prohibited from receiving a firearm or a permit that can be used to receive a firearm, due to the finding of a disqualifying factor during a background check.

Data collection procedures

The Regional Justice Information Service (REJIS), through a cooperative agreement with BJS under the Firearm Inquiry Statistics (FIST) program, collected the data.

The agencies supplied data on either paper or diskette. Several different forms were provided to meet the varying office procedures of the agencies. In addition REJIS wrote special software distributed free of charge to requesting agencies. This software was designed to simplify the record tabulating functions of the agency. It also helped to reduce the burden of keeping the statistical data because a capability of the software was to automatically report the data needed for the study. In all cases the data that the agency sent to REJIS contained only statistical information and would not allow the identification of an individual. The software also assists agencies in purging records after the delay time specified by law.

FIST data are collected directly from State agencies conducting background checks. Two approaches were used for the collection of data from local checking agencies. The first involved continuation of an ongoing survey. The ongoing survey included agencies that have provided information consistently for the FIST survey since 1995. The second consisted of telephone and mail contact to obtain data from all other local checking agencies that collected and would share information on firearm applications.

The following presents the approach used to supplement the ongoing survey among checking agencies. Telephone and mail contact was attempted in 1999 with all local checking agencies not previously invited to participate in the ongoing survey.

Information collected included the following: firearm applications made to the agency, firearm applications rejected by the agency, and the reasons for rejection. Information on appeals of rejected applications was not included since local checking agencies may not handle appeals through the entire process and may have only limited information on outcomes from such appeals.

Determining populations

To estimate the application and rejection rates within a given area, the appropriate agency population was needed and was determined as follows:

The stratification classification of the county was based on the size of the largest city within the county.

If cities within a county were conducting their own background checks, their populations were subtracted from the county population.

If a municipal agency provided services for other selected municipalities, then populations for those municipalities were added to the populations of the reporting municipality.

If an agency participating in the study relied upon other jurisdictions to conduct background checks, they were replaced by those other jurisdictions (for example, a town being replaced by a county).

State and local checking agencies were stratified by size of the population served: State agencies that served an entire State population; local agencies that served a population greater than 100,000; local agencies that served a population between 10,000 and 100,000; and local agencies that served a population of less than 10,000. Population size was based on 1998 Census Bureau information. The population categories were chosen to be consistent with those commonly used by the FBI when conducting similar studies.

All agencies serving a population greater than 100,000 were asked to contribute data in 1999, either by continuing to report in the ongoing survey or by providing a report in the supplemental survey. The number of agencies in both the ongoing survey and the supplemental survey are shown by population category in the table below.

Number of agencies Population served

Under 10,000 262 10,000 to 100,000 211 Over 100,000 37 Statewide agencies (POCs and those issuing permits) 25

Total agencies 535

These agencies together served 192,394,762 people, or 71.18% of the more than 270 million people estimated to live in the U.S. in 1998. The addition of agencies did not skew the distribution of agencies toward any particular State or region.

In some States one statewide agency conducts background checks for purchase and another agency (or division within an agency) issues ATF-approved permits. Although both agencies conducted background checks, care was taken not to count State populations twice in the estimation process. This situation of dual agencies conducting background checks did not occur among local agencies.

Estimation procedures

Based on data provided by both sets of agencies, National estimates were developed using population weighting factors. When an agency did not provide data for all months, a simple linear extrapolation or interpolation was used to generate a 12-month total.

It is important to emphasize that the mix of State and local agencies conducting background checks changed during the transition from the interim to the permanent provisions of the Brady Act. Consequently, while data collection procedures remained similar to those used in 1998, the agencies providing data changed.

For example, when the permanent provisions of the Brady Act became effective, six agencies that had previously conducted statewide checks turned their background checks over to the FBI. However, three States (Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Vermont) that had not performed their background checks during the interim period began statewide systems.

The distribution of local checking agencies also changed after the permanent provisions of the Brady Act became effective. Many States delegated their responsibilities to the FBI, so local agencies in those States no longer conducted background checks. Further, it was deemed necessary to collect data from local agencies (and some statewide agencies) that issue certain carry permits approved by ATF or State law as an alternative to a presale background check.

In 11 States local agencies still conducted checks required by State law. Local agencies that had been reporting these data to FIST were asked to continue. However, not enough local agencies remained in the ongoing survey to calculate a sufficiently accurate national estimate. Additional local checking agencies conducting background checks for permits had to be included in the estimation process. For these reasons, FIST supplemented participants in the ongoing survey with data from other checking agencies.

Agencies with a rejection rate over four standard deviations above the average standard rejection rate were classified as outliers and their data were not used for projection of estimates. In addition, rejection rates that could not be determined with sufficient accuracy were not used.

The accuracy of the estimates presented in this report depends on two types of errors: nonsampling and sampling. In this study, nonsampling error may occur from the following: nonresponse; differences in the ways checking agencies process, code, store, and retrieve their information; differences in interpretation of the survey questions; and activities that delay personnel from doing paperwork.


These tables are based on figures supplied by the United States Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce and are subject to revision by the Census Bureau.

Copyright © 2006 Photius Coutsoukis and Information Technology Associates, all rights reserved.