I find that quite a few of my customers have some confusion about the background checks performed by gun shops. First, it needs to be realized that firearm purchases are regulated by the state under mandated federal regulations.
Checks through the NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) are mandated by the federal government for any and all transfers of a firearm from a licensed retailer to a consumer. The background check is run through the FBI database via the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It does not matter if you had a background check done recently for a job or other reasons. You will do another one for a firearm purchase.
The first step is for the purchaser to fill out a Form 4473 at the retailer’s location. The retailer should then take a photocopy of the purchaser’s Florida photo identification card or driver license (and their Florida concealed carry card, if they have one). You must be a Florida resident to purchase a handgun. Long guns (rifles and shotguns) may be purchased by out-of-state customer.
Once you completely fill out the 4473, the retail associate will then call or go online to the FDLE and enter the demographic information you have provided. Surprisingly, the only information the retailers enter are your country of citizenship, full name, date of birth, gender, race, state of birth, and state of current residence. Your social security number is optional but recommended, especially if you have a common name like Jennifer Malone. (Fun tidbit for my readers: My ex-husband’s second wife is also named Jennifer.)
All the yes/no questions are basically filter questions to determine your eligibility to purchase a firearm. If you give the wrong answers, then we are not supposed to proceed with your background check. If you lie about your criminal history on the form — which is a felony — it will be caught when FDLE accesses the FBI database. If you are wanted for any reason, the FDLE will call the shop and request that the applicant be stalled if possible while the police are dispatched. I’ve seen it happen. Tons of fun!
The actual background check usually takes only minutes, but it can easily be delayed by high volumes of gun sales. This is common during the holidays, on weekends when multiple gun shows are going on in the state, and around election times and times of political conflict. There are also the “technical issues” that the FDLE system is famous for. These technical issues can and frequently do delay background checks for hours.
There are three potential outcomes of a FDLE background check: Approval, non-approval, and decision pending.
An approval means there are no problems with your background check at all and you appear to be a law-abiding citizen. Congratulations! You own a new gun now. If you have a Florida carry permit, you can pay for your gun and carry it out of the store. If not, you now have a three-day waiting period.
What the wait period entails is three business days between the day of the background check and the day that it is taken possession of, starting at midnight and ending at midnight, weekends not included. So, if you come in on Monday, you have to wait for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to pass before you come get your gun on Friday.
A non-approval I think is self-explanatory. You cannot have a gun. The sales associate does not know why you were denied. Please do not ask us or try to plead with us. We have no influence on this. Understand it is not our decision and we are only the messenger. What this means is be nice. Don’t get mad and yell at us.
If you get a non-approval and you believe that there is nothing you’ve done that should prevent you from purchasing a firearm, then you should appeal the decision and try to get it overturned. The appeal process should be initiated within 30 days of the denial.
It consists of obtaining a sheet from the firearms dealer that has your name and control number on it and an area on the bottom for fingerprints. The dealer fills out the top part, you fill out the middle part, then the form is taken to a local law enforcement office where they will fingerprint you.
Once you do this, mail it into the FDLE in Tallahassee (the address will be provided on the appeal form). After they receive your fingerprints and verify you are indeed the applicant, then they will talk to you about the denial. It all sounds like a pain in the rear end, but I promise you it is a way better outcome than the dreaded decision pending.
The decision pending status means that there is something on your background check that they would like to further investigate. This can happen even if you possess a Florida carry permit. They will decide when they are good and ready. Someday. I’ve seen them take up to 11 months to make a decision, although the norm is usually three to four months. In the meantime, the firearm sale cannot be canceled since it is still in a DP status.
Again, this is not the sales associate’s fault. They understand the horrible wait period you are about to endure. They see it every day and pray that they never ever receive a DP status. It’s worse than a denial, in my eyes. Now, let me say that most DPs end up eventually being approvals. It also seems that once you have been through the decision pending process, the next background check gets approved instantly and without hesitation.
Once a non-approval is overturned or a decision pending is finally changed to an approval, the applicant has 30 days from the day of the decision date to take possession of the firearm. If the applicant does not fulfill this obligation within 30 days, then the process would have to start all over again with a new background check.
The NICS background check system looks at your criminal record, not medical. If you have ever been arrested, even if the charges were dropped, you may receive a non-approval or decision pending. It is based on your history of interactions with law enforcement, and if there is some then they look deeper — which takes months to do, apparently. So if this applies to you, be warned that you will be waiting awhile before the firearm can be turned over to you.
Jenny Malone grew up in the Charlotte County area and is an NRA-certified pistol instructor and range safety officer. You can talk guns with her at J&J One Stop Gun Shop at 2324 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte.