How Far Back Does a Gun Background Check Go? 2023 Firearm Laws

Background check repair icon.Written by Background Check Repair

Background Checks | April 26, 2024

Computer showing how far back does a gun background check go and how far back does a firearm background check go with a magnifying glass over the screen and on the right, calendar pages of months flipping with a question mark.

When buying a firearm, many people wonder, how far back does a gun background check go?

Gun background checks are performed by the FBI and Department of Justice, and examine an individual’s entire criminal history.

However, there is a lot more to consider about the length of time and the records that show up on an gun background check. And, plenty of new laws that impact the right to own a gun, so it’s important that individuals familiarize themselves with them before attempting to purchase a firearm.

This complete guide examines how far back does a gun background check go, and how new state laws can dictate whether or not the purchase is allowed by the government.

How Far Back Does a Gun Background Check Go?

Some individuals wondering how far back does a gun background check go, might be under the impression that gun background checks only go back 7-10 years.

However, even individuals who live in states with seven-year rules will have their entire criminal history record examined when they are undergoing a gun background check. This is because the background check that is performed as part of the purchase of a firearm is performed by the FBI.

Since the check is being performed by a federal agency, they do not need to abide by any state laws when it comes to how far back the background check is able to go.

Aside from being able to view an individual’s entire criminal history, the FBI is even able to view criminal records that have been sealed. This may surprise many individuals, however this is simply the way the sealing of records works.

When a record is sealed it still exists, it is only no longer considered public information and thus can not be viewed by private citizens. However, official agencies such as the FBI and local or state police will be able to view these records when performing background checks or if the individual has another interaction with law enforcement.1

How Long Does a Background Check Take for a Gun?

Many individuals who are wanting to purchase a gun might be concerned about how long a background check takes for a gun and will be wondering if they will have to wait several weeks to complete the purchase.

However, this is not the case as the NICS background check that is required when purchasing a firearm from a licensed dealer is usually completed in less than 15 minutes and in most cases will be completed in just a couple of minutes.2

Screenshot of Utah Department of Public Safety website page for criminal identification with yellow arrow on instant gun background check.

This is because the NICS background check service is available by phone during most of the day and the e-check system is always available.3

In short, individuals will often be able to undergo a background check and purchase a firearm on the same day, as long as their state does not have a mandatory waiting period for firearm purchases.

What Does a Gun Background Check Show?

When it comes to what does a gun background check show, individuals should expect their entire criminal history to be present on the check. This will include arrests, charges, and convictions from the individual’s entire life. Not only is the FBI able to check criminal history records that are 20 years or older, they are also able to view records that have been sealed by the courts.

Aside from criminal records, the NICS gun background check will also check a few other databases to ensure the individual meets all the legal requirements to purchase a gun.

A firearm background check will also include checks to ensure the individual has never been committed mental institution, as well as an identity verification check to ensure that the individual is a U.S. citizen or at least in the United States legally.

Domestic abuse records are also checked specifically as this is a common disqualifier when it comes to purchasing a gun. Although this information may appear in the criminal history check, certain domestic abuse records will be present only in civil or family court records so these databases are checked as well.

Finally, civil and family court records will also be searched to ensure that no one has filed for a protective or restraining order against the individual that is trying to purchase the firearm.

Despite the extensive checks, a NICS check should still be completed in just a few minutes if purchasing a gun from a licensed firearm dealer.

How To Find Out if You Can Purchase a Gun

Some individuals might be unsure of what is on their criminal record and will want to know how to find out if you can purchase a gun, luckily there are a few different methods that individuals can try.

The easiest and quickest way for individuals to determine if they are eligible to purchase a gun is to perform a one-time background check on themselves using an online background check provider. The simplest way to do this is to use the search bar at the top of this page by simply entering your own name and performing a public records search.

Assuming the individual is a U.S. citizen, not addicted to any illicit substances, and has never been committed to a mental health institution, then the only thing that would be cause for disqualification is what is found in their criminal and civil court records.

Screenshot of Office of the Attorney General website page for forms with yellow arrow on firearm eligibility check application form.

In some states, like California, a person’s eligibility to own a firearm must be approved by the bureaucracy before being allowed to legally purchase a firearm.

Besides using the search bar at the top of this page individuals can use just about any online background check service that performs a criminal history and civil court records checks. Although most of these require the purchase of a subscription to perform the search and obtain the results, many services offer a 7-day free trial background check that individuals can take advantage of.

In addition to the private background check methods that individuals can use there is also the option to employ an official background check as well. Individuals can obtain background checks through their local police departments, as well as through the state police in most cases.

Keep in mind that for state checks there is a possibility that only state criminal records will appear so individuals who have been convicted of crimes in other states might want to avoid these checks in order to get a more accurate picture of what the gun background check will show.

Finally, the most thorough and expensive option is to request an identity history summary check through the FBI.4 The FBI background check is a finger-print based background check that is widely considered to be the most comprehensive and accurate criminal history check that is currently available to the general public.

Since the FBI conducts its investigation in great detail, you might want to know how long a fingerprint background check takes. As there are many contributing factors, processing the request could take a while, ranging from days to weeks.

Background Check for Concealed Carry Permit

The background screening for a concealed carry permit is largely the same as the background check that is required for a normal firearm purchase. The background check will be conducted by the same agency and will examine the same information. Concealed carry permit laws vary from state to state so individuals should read up on their local laws to ensure they have all the required information to apply for a concealed carry permit as well as to ensure they meet all the requirements.

Can You Pass a Gun Background Check With a Misdemeanor?

Individuals wondering if you can pass a gun background check with a misdemeanor, will likely be pleased to find that it is possible to pass a gun background check, and to own a firearm with a misdemeanor and even certain felonies on their record.

Screenshot of NICS website page for resources with yellow arrow on denial notifications for gun purchase application.

Some misdemeanors and even a few felonies do not necessarily automatically disqualify a person on a gun background check.

The NICS states that individuals will be denied the purchase of a firearm if the background check reveals that they were convicted of a crime that had a punishment of more than one year in jail or a misdemeanor that is punishable by more than two years in jail. Essentially, low-level misdemeanors and low-level felonies will not be automatic disqualifiers when it comes to a gun background check.

Keep in mind that when filling out the ATF Form 773, which is required to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer, individuals that lie about having been convicted of a crime are technically committing perjury which itself is a felony.

Why Is My Gun Purchase Pending?

Individuals wondering why is my gun purchase pending, will be disappointed to learn that it can be difficult to learn the reason for a pending transaction. One of the main reasons that a gun purchase will be pending due to the NICS background check is because the NICs system is down or is simply overwhelmed.

There have been several times over the last few years when the NICS was receiving so many background check requests that they simply fell behind, causing many of these checks to take longer than normal.

Screenshot of NICS website page for services with yellow arrow on NICS assistance to processing issues for gun purchase application.

Processing times for the NICS system can vary, and some gun background checks can take longer than others.

However, in many states a licensed firearm dealer is able to transfer ownership of the gun to the individual, even if their background check hasn’t cleared as long as 72 hours have passed since the check was initiated.

How To Find Out if You Can Purchase a Gun for Free

Those interested in how to find out if you can purchase a gun for free will likely need to employ the use of a private background check service. All official background check services operated by law enforcement agencies will require a fee to perform a criminal history check.

Finding an online background check provider that offers a free trial is likely the best course of action, as the NICS does not perform background checks on individuals until they are attempting to purchase a firearm.

What Happens if You Fail a Background Check for a Gun?

In many situations, individuals will be surprised when they are denied a gun purchase and will be wondering what happens if you fail a background check for a gun. This can happen to individuals who believed that a crime from 10 years ago would not show up.

However when it comes to how far back does a gun background check go, the NICS check will always show the individual’s entire criminal history.

Screenshot of NICS website page for forms with yellow arrow on VAF form.

The Voluntary Appeal File application form can be used to appeal a firearm purchase denial by the Department of Justice.

Unfortunately, due to the accuracy of NICS checks, it is unlikely that the individual will be able to purchase a gun at all once they have been denied by the NICS. However, there is a challenge and appeals process that individuals can pursue.

Individuals can find more detailed information on the FBI website page regarding firearm purchases and appeals. Individuals will need to submit their appeal through the Department of Justice.5,6

What Will Disqualify You From Buying a Gun?

Individuals wondering, “what will disqualify you from buying a gun,” should familiarize themselves with the most common reasons that firearms purchases are denied. As mentioned, one of the most common reasons for the denial is individuals who have been convicted of certain felonies and misdemeanors. However a criminal record is not the only reason that gun purchases are denied.

Below are some of the other common reasons that the NICS will deny the purchase of a firearm, however states may have additional laws and requirements that will lead to a firearm purchase being denied.

  • Individuals that are fugitives from justice
  • Individuals addicted to controlled or illicit substances
  • Domestic Violence Convictions
  • Individuals currently under criminal indictment
  • Individuals with protective orders filed against them
  • Mental health reasons
  • Individuals who are not in the United States legally.
  • Individuals that have been dishonorably discharged from the United States Military.
  • Individuals that have renounced their United States citizenship

Some individuals might find themselves in a situation in which they paid for the gun but failed a background check. Individuals in this situation should be able to seek a refund for the purchase. This possibility is why it is fairly rare for firearms dealers to charge an individual for a firearm until the background check has been cleared.

However, some gun owners will charge a non-refundable deposit instead of charging the full amount, in this situation if the individual were to fail the NICS background check, they would likely not be refunded for the deposit.

How Many Guns Can You Buy With One Background Check?

Those confused about how many guns can you buy with one background check will be pleased to learn that individuals can purchase numerous guns with a single background check, as long as all the purchases are part of the same transaction.

Do I Need To Do a Background Check Every Time I Buy a Gun?

Individuals wondering, do I need to do a background check every time I buy a gun, should know that a new NICS background check must be completed for every new transaction, although multiple guns can be purchased during a single transaction.

Do Gun Shops Charge for Background Checks?

Many people inquire as to whether they need to pay for a background check. When it comes to the question of do gun shops charge for background checks, NICS background checks are free so a gun shop will not charge for a background check.

How Far Back Does a Gun Background Check Go: How Far Back Does NICS Background Check Go?

Due to misconceptions over the 7-year rule and background checks in general, many people are confused about how far back does NICS background check go?

Since NICS checks are performed by the FBI they will go back forever which makes you wonder how long FBI background check takes.

Can You Run a NICS Background Check on Yourself?

Can you run a NICS background check on yourself? Is a fairly common question.

Unfortunately, the NICS background check system is only available to licensed firearm dealers who are trying to complete firearms transactions. However, anyone can run their own FBI background check to examine their criminal record before attempting a firearm purchase.

Online Gun Purchase Background Check

Those that are unsure if they are going to pass a NICS background check might be looking for an online gun purchase background check.

Although there is no official check of this kind, individuals can use online background check services to obtain their criminal records and get a better idea of if they are going to pass their check or not.

Can I Check the Status of My Gun Background Check?

It’s completely natural for individuals to get impatient and wonder, how long does a background screening take or can I check the status of my gun background check?

Unfortunately, checking the status is not possible but is usually not an issue. In most cases, NICS background checks will only take a few minutes to complete so individuals will rarely have a need to check the status in the first place.

How Far Back Does a Gun Background Check Go?

There is a lot to consider for individuals thinking about purchasing a firearm, and many will still be wondering, how far back does a gun background check go, luckily the answer is very simple.

The NICS background check that is performed when an individual purchases a firearm will examine their entire criminal history.

With so many different federal and state laws to navigate, buying a gun can be somewhat confusing. However, at the very least individuals should know that when it comes to how far back does a gun background check go, the answer is forever.

Frequently Asked Questions About How Far Back Does a Gun Background Check Go

How Far Back Does a Firearm Background Check Go?

A firearms background check will go back forever regardless of state or local laws regarding criminal history.

How Far Back Does NICS Check Go?

An NICS background check is performed by the FBI who are able to view individuals entire criminal history.

What Is the Gun Background Check Wait Times 2023?

A typical gun background check wait time in 2023 is usually less than 15 minutes and is often far quicker.

What Are the Gun Background Check Laws by State?

The ATF publishes a frequently updated list of all the firearms laws that individuals should be aware of for each state.7

Can My Wife Buy a Gun if I Was Denied?

In general it is possible for the spouse of a denied person to purchase a gun, however state laws may make the act of certain individuals, such as those with specific felonies, from being in the same house as a firearm.

Do All States Require a Background Check To Buy a Firearm?

Background checks on individuals purchasing guns from licensed dealers is mandated at the federal level and thus required in every state.

Can I Perform a NICS E Check Myself?

Only licensed firearm dealers are able to request NICS background checks.


1United States Government. (2022). Homepage. FBI. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from <>

2United States Government. (2022). About NICS. FBI. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from <>

3United States Government. (2022). Firearms Checks (NICS). FBI. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from <>

4United States Government. (2022). Rap Sheets (Identity History Summary Checks). FBI. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from <>

5United States Government. (2022). Firearm-Related Challenge (Appeal) and Voluntary Appeal File (VAF). FBI. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from <>

6Department of Justice. (2022). Overview. IdHSC. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from <>

7US Department of Justice. (2022). State Laws and Published Ordinances – Firearms (34th Edition). ATF. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from <>

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