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Alert Local Law Enforcement of Failed Background Checks


Alert Local Law Enforcement of Failed Background Checks

What does it solve?

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) stops thousands of convicted felons, domestic abusers, and other prohibited people from buying guns each year. Potential purchasers often fail NICS background checks and walk away with no consequences, free to try to arm themselves in other ways.

NICS denial laws, also known as “active alerts,” require state law enforcement or firearm dealers to notify local law enforcement when a person prohibited by law from purchasing firearms tries to buy a gun and fails the background check. This enables law enforcement to stop them before they obtain guns illegally.

Myth & Fact


States have no role in enforcing the federal background check requirement to purchase a firearm.


States can and do enforce federal background check requirements. In fact, even in states that do not require law enforcement notification of failed checks, prosecutors sometimes charge people with violating state laws prohibiting lying on government forms when they find out that a person who is prohibited from possessing a firearm under state or federal law attempted to purchase one from a licensed dealer.

How it works

Alerting law enforcement when a person fails a background check helps prevent that person from obtaining a gun through other illegal means.

It is unlawful for a person who is prohibited from buying a gun to attempt to purchase one. NICS stops thousands of people prohibited from having firearms from buying them every year. But these “lie-and-try” offenses are rarely prosecuted, and local law enforcement often doesn’t know when a prohibited, and potentially dangerous, person tries to buy a gun.

Several states have addressed this loophole in their law, requiring law enforcement to be notified when a person fails a NICS check. Alerting local law enforcement enables police to stop people from obtaining guns illegally through unlicensed sales or other means. States that have these reporting requirements have seen success. For example, Pennsylvania’s active alerts program has resulted in nearly 5,000 reported convictions of people attempting to illegally purchase guns.

By the numbers