Criminal background checks, which verify via a federal database that a potential gun purchaser is not prohibited from owning a firearm, are the single most effective systematic way to prevent violent felons, domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill and other dangerous people from buying guns. Since its creation in 1988, the National Instant Background Checks System (NICS) has prevented more than 2 million gun purchases by convicted criminals and other dangerous people, while providing quick, simple and usually instantaneous clearance for law-abiding purchasers. 

Loopholes in the Current System

While the system works well for the sales it covers, it contains a serious loophole that make it easy for criminals and other dangerous people to skirt the law and get guns easily. The fact is, a significant number of gun transfers take place outside of licensed gun shops — at flea markets, gun shows, and increasingly, via anonymous online sales. In Vermont, none of these sales require a criminal background check, so criminals can easily locate and purchase a gun: no check, no records, no questions asked. 

How Criminal Background Checks on Unlicensed Sales Would Work

We can close the loophole that allows dangerous people to easily get guns by requiring criminal background checks on unlicensed gun sales (with reasonable exemptions*). 

Here’s how this simple improvement to the current system would work:

    • When an unlicensed seller and buyer arrange to meet in person to complete a sale, they meet at a licensed dealer (FFL), instead of in a parking lot or in another public place.
    • The dealer conducts the background check. The buyer completes the Form 4473, certifying that he is not a prohibited purchaser, and the dealer calls in the background check—just as he would if he were selling a firearm from his own inventory.
    • As with current sales at licensed dealers, the dealer retains the Form 4473 as a basic sales receipt in his store records, and any government record of a successful background check is destroyed by the FBI within 24 hours. 

Not only is this simple and effective, but it’s incredibly easy to implement: 

    • Dealers already conduct background checks for unlicensed sales all over the country; 24% of licensed gun dealers in Vermont are already willing to conduct background checks for private sales according to 
    • In Vermont, getting to a dealer may be easier than getting to a post office. An estimated 99.96% of Vermont residents live within 10 miles of a licensed gun dealer. There are 301 licensed gun dealers in Vermont — 1.2 times the number of post offices.(2)

*Reasonable Exemptions
Expanded background check requirements would not include giving firearms as bona fide gifts to immediate family members, temporarily loaning firearms during hunting and sporting events, transferring a firearm as part of an inheritance and temporarily transferring a firearm for immediate self-defense needs.