Gun Laws & Legislation

A Right Delayed: What happens if the NICS system goes down?

Guns and Gear Contributor
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By David Codrea, GUNS Magazine

Floodwaters from Hurricane Sandy “damaged tens of thousands of [New Jersey] mental health records used as part of background checks for gun purchases … meaning some prospective gun owners have not been able to buy pistols or rifles for several months,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

“The months-long backlog coincides with a surge in gun ownership,” the story continued, spotlighting one resident who decided to protect himself following a rash of burglaries and has since been waiting almost half a year for the ID card the Garden State requires to purchase a firearm.

“A right delayed is a right denied,” the would-be gun owner complained, echoing the famous quote by Martin Luther King. In this case, it’s not hard to see how such a delay could prove fatal.

Such delays don’t just happen due to natural disasters. And a new law being demanded under the guise of saving lives could actually end up endangering some.

“So-called ‘universal background checks’ can stop all gun sales nationally,” author Alan Korwin wrote recently in his popular “Page Nine” internet column. “When NICS [National Instant Check] is down, you can’t buy a gun at retail.

“If all transfers are forced through NICS … no one in the nation could get a gun if NICS were turned off, or broken, or went under maintenance for a while,” Korwin observed, pointing out just one of the new pitfalls such a law could create.

“NICS was closed 84 times in a 6-month period in 1999,” he related, advising, “It’s been closed for as long as 4 days in a row [and] can be closed regionally.

He’s recalling a time when suspicions ran high that it may not have been just a glitch.

“Senator [Orrin] Hatch called for [a] hearing in response to the growing concern that the Clinton-Gore Administration has deliberately sabotaged the NICS system through shoddy implementation and operation practices, causing NICS to be frequently ‘down’ for hours—even days—at a stretch,” NRA reported in a fax alert at the time. “Hatch pointed out the fact that [this] coincided with the so-called ‘Million Mom March,’ and that FBI reports show NICS was not operating for at least 215 hours last year.”

Fortunately, no one would have cause to suspect the Obama administration of such shenanigans, would they? Still, with demand for checks being created in record numbers thanks to the aforementioned surge, sheer volume seizing up servers appears to be a legitimate factor for concern. Aside from routine sharing of anecdotes on internet gun forums, the Bangor Daily News reported “intermittent outages” last year on “Black Friday” when calls from there overloaded the system.

So if that system freezes up, what are our options, particularly if we don’t live in a state that runs independent checks (and disregarding that Colorado does just that and was reporting 8-day queues this past December)?

“In the event of a ‘crash,’ if a dealer is not notified that the transfer should be denied in three business days, the transfer may proceed,” NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action advises.

What if you end up needing a gun before then?


GUNS Magazine is a print and online magazine featuring everything from gun/gear reviews, hunting and a great section called “Right’s Watch” focusing on threats to the Second Amendment. Visit GUNS Magazine by clicking here.