are background checks required to buy a gun in the us

Are Background Checks Required to Buy a Gun in the US?

Everyone has the right to own and possess a firearm. However, this right can be forfeited once you are convicted of a crime. If you are someone who is currently convicted or an ex-felon, you may find yourself wondering if you can still possess a gun. Moreover, are background checks required to buy a gun in the country?

A federal background check requirement is a necessary procedure whenever a person wants to buy firearms from licensed gun dealers. This measure is done to ensure that the person buying firearms is legally qualified to own and possess one.

If you are curious about background checks for gun ownership, then this article is a must-read for you.

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The Universal Background Checks Law

The Universal Background Checks Law

According to the Gun Control Act of 1968, individuals engaged in the business of handgun sales or firearms must be licensed.

Furthermore, in 1986, the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act defined a federally licensed firearms dealer as someone who labors and devotes time and attention to selling firearms for regular trade as a means of livelihood and gaining profit.

Hence, unlicensed sellers are not obligated to do background checks on their buyers. Unlicensed gun vendors can initiate firearm transfers and source illegally trafficked firearms without the need for background checks.

The current federal law imposes the following duties on all federally licensed firearms dealers: 

  • To perform mandatory background checks on all potential firearm purchasers
  • Keep records of all gun purchases and maintain a firearm’s transaction record 
  • All records on handgun purchases and private sales should be made available to law enforcement officers during the inspection
  • Obligated to report multiple sales of private gun sales
  • Report any discrepancies in the licensee’s inventory, such as theft or loss of a firearm.

Do You Need a Background Check to Buy a Gun in the US?

Yes, a background check is a necessary measure when buying a gun in the US. It is done for the prevention of gun violence such as gun homicides, firearm suicides, and firearm trafficking.

Any person planning to purchase a gun from a licensed dealer must go through it to ensure that the gun buyer is not prohibited by the law to own a gun, as required by US federal law or state laws.

However, the sad truth is, despite having a federal law about gun sales, there is still a loophole that makes buying a gun accessible to individuals who are prohibited from owning them. 

Do You Need a Background Check to Buy a Gun in the US?

The term gun show loophole refers particularly to the loophole in the existing federal law that doesn’t require private or unlicensed sellers to perform background checks on individuals who want to buy firearms.

Basically, background checks are a requirement for all gun sales by licensed dealers and don’t cover gun sales by unlicensed gun sellers, online gun sellers, or guns sold at gun shows.

Lawmakers are finding a way to resolve this loophole by creating universal background checks that encompass all gun sales from licensed and unlicensed sellers.

The current federal law regarding background checks requires all unlicensed sellers to transact with their buyers at the nearest gun dealer. Background checks are done by the gun dealer on behalf of the unlicensed seller. 

Many gun owners are accustomed to this procedure. At present, there are 21 states, including Washington DC, to require background checks on gun sales from unlicensed sellers.

What Does a Gun Background Check Show?

A gun background check shows all the following records of the individual, such as: 

  • All in-state criminal records 
  • Mental health records
  • Juvenile delinquency records
  • Warrants
  • Protective order information

For law-abiding citizens, undergoing a criminal background check is considered convenient, hassle-free, and easy. Background checks are facilitated by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS). 

It can take approximately 2 minutes to conduct background checks. The first step is for the buyer to fill out the ATF form. The information from the ATF form is then relayed to NICS. 

National Instant Criminal Background Check System

NICS can easily be contacted by phone or electronically. NICS is easily accessible through phone 17 hours a day, 7 days a week, and holidays (excluding Christmas). All calls are recorded and monitored.

Background checks can keep dangerous firearms from the hands of people who are prohibited from using them by blocking their purchase of guns. This also prevents or minimizes illegal guns from being sold in the illegal gun market or gun show.

What Disqualifies You from Owning a Gun in The US?

Individuals who are disqualified from owning a gun in the US are those who have felony convictions, those with restraining orders for domestic abuse, those convicted of gun offenses, and those who are diagnosed with mental health problems.

Through background checks, these individuals are prohibited from purchasing any firearm or denied a permit to purchase.

Despite having a federal law on background checks for gun sales, there are still several people who are purchasing firearms in online stores. These individuals are mainly those whom the law considers illegally prohibited persons to be gun owners.

Illegal gun sales are a large market, and most of these gun owners do not undergo a background check. Sadly, not all states in the US adopt the universal background checks law. Hence, a big percentage of individuals prohibited from owning a gun are free to have one.

Can an Ex-felon Buy a Gun?

Generally speaking, ex-felons cannot purchase a permit or possess a firearm under federal law. However, under federal law, there are some exceptions that may allow them to buy and own a firearm when:

  • The conviction is expunged
  • The conviction is set aside
  • The conviction is pardoned

When an ex-felon is pardoned, this does not mean that their criminal convictions are erased. Rather, a pardon is a form of forgiveness and their forfeited rights are once again restored.

A pardoned ex-felon can purchase and keep a gun provided they do not violate the conditions of their pardon. Once an ex-felon’s civil rights are restored, they are allowed by law to own and possess a firearm.

An ex-felon can once again face criminal charges if found to be in possession of a firearm. Federal law has placed certain consequences for ex-felons who are found to be in the following situations:

  • Found to be in possession of firearms or ammunition
  • Found to be the recipient of firearms or ammunition
  • Possessing firearms while awaiting trial on felony charges
  • They are found to transport firearms or ammunition across state lines

They can be imprisoned for 10 years. However, if the ex-felon had three or more prior felony convictions, they will be imprisoned for a minimum of 15 years without parole.

Also, an ex-felon can be guilty of constructive possession of a firearm even when they don’t personally possess a firearm but are aware that there is a firearm inside their home or car owned by another family member.

Having this awareness gives them the chance to get hold of a gun and have control over it.

When Can a Convicted Felon Possess a Firearm?

Convicted felons can become firearm purchasers and possess a firearm when they have restored their civil rights. They can possess firearms if they are legally allowed by federal law. This means that their conviction is pardoned, set aside, or expunged (removed completely).

Convicted felons forfeit some of their civil rights as payment for their crimes.  Civil rights that are forfeited include their right to vote, right to serve on a jury, right to hold public office, and finally the right to possess firearms. 

They may not be allowed to possess firearms, but they are not prohibited from owning other types of weapons for self-defense.

They are allowed to own and use pellet guns, crossbows, bows and arrows, and knives with specific lengths as tools for self-defense.


Criminal background checks for gun sales are done for all firearm sales by point of sale. Many have shown their support for this initiative with the hope to stop gun violence across the country.

A big percentage of Americans support the universal background check laws for all gun sales. However, many are still doubtful of its effectiveness in monitoring all gun sales because of several illegal and unlicensed sellers in the market.

Because of the loophole in the universal background checks law, there have been many deadly consequences such as mass shootings that have caused hundreds of lives.

It is true that comprehensive background checks have decreased violent crime rates. However, background checks don’t guarantee that criminals will stop stealing firearms, selling guns online, selling in gun shows, or buying guns from the black market.

Gun ownership is a responsibility, and every gun owner is expected to know and understand the law to ensure gun safety. You can always seek legal help from a licensed lawyer nearest you.

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