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Firearm Background Checks in WA

Firearm background checks in Washington state are handled by either the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) or local law enforcement agencies.

FBI/NICS checks

FBI/NICS checks are done for long gun purchases (other than semi-automatic assault rifles) and “others,” such as lowers and receivers.

When the FBI/NICS does a firearm background check, it checks three databases:

  • The Interstate Identification Index (III), which is a nationwide database of criminal history.
  • The National Crime Information System (NCIS), which is a nationwide database of protection orders and warrants.
  • The NICS Indeces, which is a special national database reserved specifically for individuals who have been determined as prohibited from possessing a firearm.

If any of these database checks reveal an event that prohibits you from possessing a firearm, you will be denied. If the information present in the database requires further research in order to determine whether you are prohibited, you will receive a delay until that determination is made.

If you’re denied a firearm purchase, you can file an appeal directly with FBI/NICS. However, you are highly encouraged to consult with a knowledgeable lawyer regarding your denial because you may actually be prohibited from possessing a firearm and simply not realize it.

Local law enforcement checks

Local law enforcement checks are done for handguns and completed semi-automatic assault rifles. They are also done for concealed pistol license applications.

A local law enforcement check is done by your local police department or sheriff. It works in much the same way as the FBI/NICS checks regarding the types of databases that are reviewed.

I got denied on a background check, what should I do?

First of all – don’t panic. It is possible that the denial is an error. This can happen if the FBI/NICS or your local law enforcement agency made a mistake, or if your criminal history is being incorrectly reported on your rap sheet. This happens quite frequently. However, it could also be the case that you’re prohibited from possessing a firearm and you didn’t even realize it. It is imperative that you consult with an experienced WA state firearms lawyer about your options.

What could happen as a result of being denied?

If you are denied a firearm purchase, the dealer is required by WA state law to report the denial to law enforcement. Law enforcement is then supposed to investigate the circumstances of the denial and possibly refer the case to the prosecutor for a charging decision. The result could be criminal charges filed against you for false swearing (lying on the application for purchase) or attempted unlawful possession of a firearm. You should consult with a firearms lawyer as soon as possible after your denial.


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