FBI Admits It Is Often Wrong On Gun Related Background Check Denials

By John Velleco
….and that Many NICS Checks Are Not “Instant”

FBI Admits It Is Often Wrong On Gun Related Background Check Denials , iStock

USA – -(AmmoLand.com)- The last few years have seen record numbers of gun sales, and thus record numbers of federally mandated background checks conducted through the FBI’s National Instant Background Check System (“NICS”). The FBI performed about 28 million such NICS checks in 2019, while last year that number jumped to nearly 40 million.

Each year, the FBI denies somewhere around 100,000 would-be firearm purchases — a statistic that the FBI is always proud to report. Those on the anti-gun Left, in turn, often tout this ever-increasing number of persons who have been denied the purchase of a firearm since implementation of the Brady Act on November 30, 1998. Through October 31, 2021, that number now exceeds two million NICS denials.

Gun control advocates point to this figure as proof positive that the NICS system works at stopping criminals from getting their hands on firearms. But their flawed assumption is that those who are denied by NICS are actually prohibited persons — something that is far from the case.

Notably, Second Amendment researcher and economist John Lott has claimed that as many as 99 percent of NICS denials are actually false positives — meaning the person denied is not actually a prohibited person.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Department of Justice tries to paint an entirely different picture, claiming that the FBI’s denial accuracy rate is between 99.3 and 99.8 percent — which, if true, would mean that almost no one is wrongly denied. Yet just about every week, GOA hears from its members and supporters who have been wrongly denied when attempting to purchase a firearm, and so the FBI’s claim seems suspect.

Indeed, documents recently received by Gun Owners of America (GOA) pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request show that the FBI’s own records undermine its claim to near-perfect accuracy.

In response to GOA’s FOIA request, the FBI responded that “27.7 percent of [NICS] appeals received during the requested time period were overturned and the firearm purchase/transfer transactions were proceeded.”

In other words, the FBI admits that its actual error rate is (at least) 138 times greater than it has previously claimed. But even this figure doesn’t fully represent the number of times the FBI gets it wrong.

  • First, by our math, only about 20 percent of NICS denials are ever actually appealed — often because the person denied is unable to navigate the appeals process or unable to afford a lawyer to help.
  • Second, the 27.7 percent figure only represents the times that the FBI admits it was wrong — and as we know, many people have even NICS appeals wrongly denied.
  • Third, the FBI’s statistic does not include people who file legal challenge — for example, Second Amendment lawyer Stephen Stamboulieh has brought (and won) numerous federal cases against the FBI for wrongfully denying firearm sales. For every such case, there are probably a thousand other gun owners who aren’t aware they can sue the FBI, give up in despair, or don’t have the resources to pursue expensive and time-consuming litigation in federal court.

In other words, the FBI’s admission that it is wrong 27.7 percent of the time likely understates the bureau’s actual error rate by a significant amount.

The NICS system historically has been justified by some gun owners (and many politicians) as a necessary evil, on the theory that the results it provides are both accurate and “instant.” But as explained above, the NICS system is far from accurate.

Moreover, GOA’s FOIA request has also uncovered records showing that the promised “instant” background check system is by no means instant. In fact, NICS checks historically are delayed more than 10 percent of the time. And, as the FBI has admitted to GOA, these delays can last a very long time — more than three business days, nearly 4 percent of the time (or 1 in 25 background checks).

That is hardly an insignificant number, and a right delayed is a right denied.

What’s more, the so-called “instant” system only works if the system is operational, and FBI records obtained by GOA show numerous times in recent months where the NICS system has been entirely inoperable — leaving a firearm dealer unable to run a background check, and denying Second Amendment rights nationwide until the FBI fixes its system.

These NICS outages range from just a few minutes on the low end to more than five hours — nearly an entire business day. GOA has been keeping its own records of NICS outages — and the FBI’s list doesn’t accurately reflect all the outages that have occurred.

In short, the NICS system is often nonoperational — often for significant periods of time. And even when the system is up and running, background checks are by no means “instant” a significant percentage of the time. Finally, when the FBI does accomplish a background check but denies the sale, there is a very good chance that denial is erroneous.

And the most recent FBI records that GOA has uncovered provide even further reasons why Congress should finally end the Brady Act’s seriously flawed and unconstitutional background check experiment.

GOA has always and will continue to oppose all forms of background checks for gun sales, because the Second Amendment’s language “shall not be infringed” does not allow the government to require preclearance before a person is permitted to exercise enumerated constitutional rights.

John Velleco is the Executive Vice President of Gun Owners of America, a grassroots lobbying organization with more than two million members and supporters nationwide. 

About Gun Owners of America

Gun Owners of America is a grassroots nonprofit which represents more than two million gun owners who are dedicated to protecting the right to keep and bear arms without compromise. For more information, visit the GOA webpage here.

Gun Owners of America GOA logo

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“Prohibited persons”…..seems like that clause of the 2nd Amendment must be in the fine print at the back of the Constitution. Founders should have read it before signing, apparently.


There need to be harsh, severe and lengthy prison sentences for denying citizens” rights.

If a citizen breaks a law, they are always punished. When a government agent or many do, there is zero accountability.

Either we all ignore the law just like the government, or we hold them accountable..


And charge all parties who have colluded to destroy rights and thus undermine the Repubic with High Treason, then try them, then hang them in public squares all over the USA.

Green Mtn. Boy

There isn’t enough rope in the nation to carry out the sentences.


Who says you can’t reuse the used rope? Rope is rope!

Wild Bill

Yes, they would all just have to patiently wait their turn.

Hmmm, do we have to feed them in the mean time?

Green Mtn. Boy

The Federal Bureau of Incineration is not a Constitutional authorized office of law enforcement just as a number of alphabet agencies are, defund and abolish.

Wild Bill

Was the Fat Boy Institute created by a Congressional Act or executive order? The answer points the way to the fastest method of getting rid of them.


Keep in mind that just last week the FBI & DOJ “settled” a lawsuit for $88 million for not prohibiting the firearm purchase of Charleston, South Carolina Church shooter Dylan Roof. If the brief reports I’ve seen are to be believed, the DOJ attorneys provided little to no resistance in the case.


Albeit this story appears accurate, however why is there no information or discussion on those of us that have fought the fraudulent and deceptive practices used within the FBI’s NICS background check system and the many outsourced data-mining companies used to perform these “background checks” and their terrible production of “evidence” used to deny our rights in a firearms transfer? Then the final action whereas we that challenged the FBI NICS system and ended up obtaining a UPIN number for future transfers? Or the total amount to date of UPIN numbers processed (showing a true number of successful challenges) and… Read more »


The FBI ( Federal Bureau of Incompetence ) is the Democratic Communist Parties KGB, FSB, your pick.


Their attitude is probably the flip side of a well known quote: better to deny 100,000 legitimate people than to allow one illegitimate through.


lies, more lies and damned lies.
don’t forget the conspiracy in the fbi and doj to allow illegal gun walking across the southern border which killed at least one American and only God knows many others.
seems like neither the bureau or its governing department has accurate information of objective data. sad that fioa’s have to be used to obtain information that should be on their website and available to every citizen. but hey, that’s government.
bureaucracies exist only to accumulate and wield power over citizens. they are not your friend.


NICS should be abolished on constitutionality, alone. However, the fact that it is close to 100% ineffective at doing anything to stop crime should tell anyone paying attention that this system is not about stopping crime. It is working exactly as intended to violate our rights. Only in government could a program that fails almost 100% of the time continue to get funding. https://www.gunowners.org/fs08112016/ In 2018, NICS was massively expanded by Republicans. Republican Senator John Cornyn and Republican Representative John Culberson of Texas wrote the bill and it was then passed by Congress and signed into law by Trump via… Read more »

Last edited 10 months ago by Stag

If a challenge were to reach SCOTUS and judged on “Strict Scrutiny”, no doubt NICS would be thrown out. Strict Scrutiny says the law must be narrowly tailored and effective. A near 100% failure rate is not what I’d call effective. The key here to FBI’s and ATF’s real opinion on accuracy of NICS success rates is the almost negligible number of rejections that end up as prosecutions.

Wild Bill



I know many people denied for alcohol related offenses in the past. Even though a firearm was not involved. They can own a firearm legally. But yet get denied on a new firearm purchase. Most have not spent a year in jail. And another can purchase a firearm but can’t get a C&C due to paraphernalia when a youth. PA laws are clearly lacking.


and when atf audits your ffl they run them all anyway , so all it does is save time