What HB 234 Means to You: Part I - NICS compliant background checks
On March 23, 2015 several changes to Ohio law that are of particular significance to Ohio gun owners will take effect. This article will look at improvements in the background check process to obtain an Ohio concealed handgun license (CHL).
There has been a considerable amount of discussion and misinformation related to HB 234 (and HB 203) relating to the provision making the background check for obtaining an Ohio CHL a “NICS compliant” background check.
Let us start with some rumor control. HB 234 when enacted will NOT put the federal government in charge of who qualifies for an Ohio CHL, give them a database of Ohio gun owners, or prohibit people who can get a license and carry a gun from qualifying for that license. This has nothing to do with ceding power over firearms rights to the federal government.
Most gun owners know that when they buy a gun from any firearms dealer, they must fill out Form 4473 federal paperwork and pass a NICS background check. NICS stands for National Instant Criminal background Check system. It is not “gun registration" but rather a system that checks three databases to comprise what has been agreed upon as an adequate background check for gun buyers.
When an FFL dealer receives a shipment of guns, they are required by federal law to log each firearm and where it came from in a "bound book." Once this is done, the guns can go on the shelf for sale.
When a customer wants to purchase one of the guns, they must fill out the ATF Form 4473, which contains all the required information needed to properly do a background check. It also contains an entry for the FFL dealer to enter the manufacturer name, caliber, firearm type, and serial number for each gun being purchased. Once the FFL does their part, and the customer shows proper ID, and completes their part, the dealer will initiate the background check.
This can happen in one of two ways. The dealer can call the NICS operations center and speak with a customer service rep, read the descriptive information about the customer, and receive a response that way. Dealers can also log onto an FBI website and access the NICS system online.
The three main databases that comprise the NICS check are:
- The Interstate Identification Index, (III), which contains criminal history records
- The National Crime Information Center (NCIC), which contains warrants and protection orders
- NICS index, which contains other prohibited persons, such as dishonorable discharge or under indictment for a disqualifying arrest
At no time is ANY information about the firearm being purchased transmitted to the FBI. They do not care what gun someone buying. They just care if the customer is legally allowed to buy a gun.
These databases hold information on individuals prohibited by law from buying guns. Once the person is checked against the databases, NICS will receive a response and relay it to the FFL dealer. If there are no matches, the dealer will receive a “proceed.” The sale can be completed immediately. Sometimes, people have common names, or may have something questionable on their record. In this case, NICS may respond with a delay. If they do not return a response within three business days, the customer can return and pick up the firearm.
Once a sale is completed the FFL dealer will record the disposition of the gun in his "bound book" as a way of keeping track of sales and where the inventory went. This is the only record of who purchased what gun.
More information regarding the NICS background check can be found here:
After March 23, 2015, Ohio Sheriffs will check the same three databases as NICS. Unlike the FFL, the sheriff will see the record (or lack of one) of the person in question. The sheriff will make the determination if the record disqualifies the applicant for a CHL under Ohio law. Again, the federal government has no say; just your local sheriff. If a person meets the requirements, the sheriff “shall issue” that person a CHL.
Benefits for the gun owner
The first benefit we expect is an increase in reciprocity agreements. Some states refuse to sign an agreement with Ohio because we issue to persons who are unable to possess firearms. Ohio also fails to do an adequate background check. HB 234 will solve these problems, bringing increased permission for Buckeyes to carry in other states.
In time, Ohio will apply to the BATFE to have our CHL background check certified as “NICS compliant.” By showing that we conduct a background check at least as thorough as NICS, and that our list of disqualifications for obtaining a CHL are at least as strict as federal law for possession of a gun (and a few other technical details) we hope to be awarded that distinction.
Once certified NICS compliant, Ohio sheriffs may begin putting the certification on new/renewed CHL’s. All this is leading to a neat feature in the whole NICS background check rules for buying guns.
On the bottom of page 2 of a Form 4473, there is a box where the FFL dealer can check a customer’s CHL license as an exemption to the NICS check. Anyone who qualified for a CHL, and has “NICS compliant” on their license is legal to buy a gun. No more delay issues for people who are legal to buy a gun, but regularly get delayed at the point of purchase. Kentucky, Texas and many other states have been doing this for years. Both dealers and buyers love it.
A NICS check is valid for five years. Ohio CHL’s are valid for five years. So a valid “NICS compliant” CHL is proof of a valid NICS check. On a busy Saturday when the NICS system is overloaded, or it is just plain down for some reason, or maybe you are a person who regularly gets a “hold” when trying to buy a gun and is forced to make multiple trips because someone with a name similar to yours has committed a disqualifying offense, you will be able to fill out the Form 4473, show your CHL as proof of passing the required background check, and buy your gun.
Some people worry that five years is a long time and people issued a license might commit an offense and no longer be able to legally buy a gun. In such cases, however, the person's CHL will be revoked. Keep in mind that less than one half of one percent of all CHL’s issued in Ohio in the past decade have been revoked for any reason, including reasons other than the commission of a disqualifying offense.
This same basic setup has been used in many other states for years. We are simply copying what has worked well in those other states -- for gun owners, for dealers, and for society. In time, gun owners will see the NICS compliant background check as a great feature of CHL’s.
Jim Irvine is the Buckeye Firearms Association President, BFA PAC Chairman and recipient of the NRA-ILA's 2011 "Jay M. Littlefield Volunteer of the Year Award" and the CCRKBA's 2012 "Gun Rights Defender of the Year Award."