As fear fuels an apparent surge in gun-buying, firearm background checks are taking so long in Colorado that in some instances gun dealers can legally make a sale without an approved background check.
This is a developing story
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which runs the state’s background check system, said Thursday that in the face of high demand its turnaround time for background checks in some instances exceeded three business days. By federal law, if a background check is not completed within three business days, a federally licensed firearms dealer can legally go ahead with the sale.
“The CBI strongly encourages firearms dealers to hold firearms until these critical public safety background checks are completed,” the bureau said in an email.
It is not yet clear if any Colorado gun dealers have completed sales without the conclusion of a background check. But on Monday, CBI said it had 12,442 background checks in its queue, a 227% increase from this time last year.
“We are waiting for CBI. I’m not going to make a decision just because CBI is backed up in an apocalyptic type of queue,” Jacquelyn Clark, owner of Bristlecone Shooting in Lakewood, Colorado, said on Monday. “At some point, there’s not going to be a whole lot of inventory out there, so I think the CBI curve will flatten pretty soon and they will start turning them out. The wait time, in my opinion, will start to go down.”
The background check system searches for factors that would disqualify someone from buying a gun, like a previous felony conviction, a conviction for the misdemeanor crime of domestic violence or a current warrant for arrest.
Under normal circumstances, the vast majority of background checks take just minutes to administer. In Colorado, background checks normally take an average of eight minutes or less, according to CBI.
If someone is flagged in the system, the FBI has up to 90 days to reach a final conclusion. But if NICS does not reach a determination in just three days, a gun seller is allowed to complete the sale in what the FBI calls a “default proceed.”
The FBI conducts background checks for 30 states, five U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, as well as offers partial service to seven states. Thirteen states, such as Colorado, use NICS to perform their own checks.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry trade group, recently suggested that gun dealers “may want to consider waiting on a definitive response from the NICS before opting to proceed with a sale on any delayed transaction” amid reports of similarly heavy sales in many states.
Guns & America’s Jeremy Bernfeld contributed to this story. Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.