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How to Appeal a Firearm Transfer Denial

About 1 Percent of Firearm Purchases Are Denied

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Of all the people who go through a background check to purchase firearms in the United States, approximately one percent are turned down and therefore receive a firearms transfer denial.

If you failed a background check and received a denial and you think the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) made a mistake, you can appeal your firearms transfer denial. If you have never been arrested for a felony or involuntarily committed to a mental institution, or ever met any of the other federally prohibitive criteria, you have a good chance of winning your appeal.

Reasons NICS Mistakes Are Made

There are two basic reasons that you may have erroneously been turned down for a firearms purchase - mistaken identity and incorrect records.

If there is someone with a criminal record who has the same name or a similar name to your name, it can cause your firearms purchase to be denied. Likewise, if the information that the FBI has in your NICS file is incorrect or outdated, it can cause you to fail the background check.

Finding Out You've Been Denied

When you first learn that your firearms transfer has been denied, you will not know the reason for the denial. Typically, you will find out while you are in the establishment where you are attempting to purchase a gun.

The federal firearms licensee (FFL) will run the background check through the NICS system either online or over the telephone and will tell you immediately if you have been denied. That is all the information that the FFL will have. Because of privacy laws, the NICS does not release any information over the telephone or online concerning your denial.

Request the Reason for Your Denial

To find out why your firearms transfer was denied, you will have to send a written request to:

Federal Bureau of Investigation
NICS Section
Appeal Services Team, Module A-1
Post Office Box 4278
Clarksburg WV 26302-9922

You must include your complete mailing address and your NICS Transaction Number (NTN), which your firearms dealer will give you when he informs you of your denial.

The appeal services team will respond within five business days after receiving your written request, letting you know the reason that your firearms purchase was denied.

Include Your Fingerprints

When you request the reason for your denial, you may want to go ahead a include a professionally-rolled set of your fingerprints with your initial correspondence with the NICS. If it turns out that the reason for your denial is a case of mistaken identity, the agency will already have your fingerprints on hand.

If you were denied because NICS mistakenly identified you as someone else, sending a copy of your fingerprints is all that you will need to do to win your appeal. Sending them along with your initial letter will only help speed up the appeal process, which can be very lengthy.

Get Your Fingerprints Rolled

In most areas, you can get your fingerprints professionally rolled at a local law enforcement agency, such as your city police or county sheriff's department. Some agencies charge a small fee for the service, some do not.

You may want to call ahead, because some agencies only do fingerprinting for the public on certain days or at certain times of the day. A quick phone call can save you an unneeded extra trip. Be sure to tell whoever is rolling your fingerprints that it is for NICS purposes, so that can make that notation on the form.

Challenging Your Record

If it turns out that your fingerprints do match the records used to determine your firearms transfer denial, you can still appeal the decision by challenging the accuracy of those records. If you have any documentation that will help the appeal services team correct or update your records, you can include it with your initial correspondence.

For example, if you received a pardon or if charges against you were later dropped, you can send documentation along with your request for the reason you were denied. However, you may not know what records are in question until your appeal has been processed.

Contacting the Originating Agency

If your firearms transfer appeal is denied by NICS because of your record, the agency will inform you exactly what information it used to deny your firearms transfer and the original agency that created the record in the first place.

It will be up to you to contact the state or federal agency to correct any erroneous record, following the procedures established by that agency for updating records. The NICS cannot do this, you will have to contact the agency and get the record corrected yourself.

If the originating agency does in fact correct your record, then the NICS appeals team must be notified and provided documentation of the changes by that agency.

Do You Need an Attorney?

Obtaining an attorney to handle your firearms transfer denial may help you if you must get records corrected, but it probably will not speed up the appeals process. The appeals services team handles appeals in the order that they are received and the process can takes several months, depending on the backlog of cases.

If you believe the NICS appeals services team's denial of your appeal is a mistake, by all means, get an attorney, preferably one familiar with your state gun laws and Second Amendment rights and issues. Be sure to give your attorney your written and signed authorization to handle your appeal.

Inquiring About Your Appeal

Although the NICS has a customer service telephone number (1-877-444-6427), any inquiry concerning your appeal should be made in writing. Due to the Privacy Act of 1974, specific information about your appeal cannot be given to you over the telephone.

If you have not yet tried to buy a firearm, you may want to take the Firearms Transfer Background Check Quiz before you attempt a purchase to see if your transfer may be denied..

Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Justice Information Services Division. "Guide for Appealing a Firearm Transfer Denial." Revised March 2007.

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