The State Of Gun Background Check Laws And Bills

Background check laws are arguably one of the most talked-about types of gun legislation.
Posted at 9:37 AM, Feb 28, 2020

Background check laws are arguably one of the most talked-about types of gun legislation. So what's the status of those laws today, and what proposals exist to change them?

Right now, federal law requires a background check for anyone trying to buy a gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer. Those checks are run through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS. In January, the system processed over 1.1 million background checks for potential gun buyers.

The federal law doesn't apply to guns sold by private citizens or unlicensed dealers at gun shows. But 21 states and Washington, D.C., have local laws that help fill that gap. 

For example, California, Washington and New York are three of the nine states that generally only let licensed dealers process gun sales, and those dealers are required to run background checks. In Hawaii, Illinois and Massachusetts, people have to get a permit before buying a gun, and getting that permit requires a background check. 

In February 2019, the Democratic-led House passed two major gun-control measures. The Enhanced Background Checks Act would impact the federal waiting period. Currently, when a licensed dealer requests a background check, the NICS system may not give them an instant result. If three days pass and they haven't heard back, dealers are allowed to proceed with the sale. The House-passed bill would increase that waiting period to 10 days. 

The Bipartisan Background Checks Act would require all gun transfers to be processed through a licensed dealer, effectively mandating universal background checks with some limited exceptions. 

Both bills passed the House with some bipartisan support. But they've been stalled in the Senate since March 2019.