Background Checks on Gun Buyers Were Designed to Fail — by the NRA

Ladd Everitt
14 min readMay 29, 2018

Making background checks universal isn’t enough if the checks themselves don’t work.

Since America’s instant check system for gun buyers went online in November 1998, the gun control movement and its allies in Congress have made the expansion of the system their primary focus. This expansion has been promoted as the way to stop dangerous people from buying firearms.

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was designed to be fast and impersonal. Federally licensed firearm dealers contact an FBI call center in Clarksburg, West Virginia and provide the name, race, gender and date of birth of a prospective gun buyer. The FBI checks to see if the buyer has been added to any of three separate computer databases of past criminal offenders and persons adjudicated for mental illness. In 90% of cases, these checks are completed in less than two minutes.

This “efficiency” comes with a high price. Since its launch, NICS has failed spectacularly in one high-profile case after another, allowing individuals with a history of violence and threatening behavior to pass background checks and legally purchase firearms later used in mass killings, murder-suicides and other horrors.

Gun control advocates have been conspicuously silent about the problems with NICS, but these problems were predictable from the very start. It was the National Rifle Association that created the instant check system, not gun control proponents, and it was purposely designed to fail.


On October 22, 1968, President Lyndon Baines Johnson sat down to sign the biggest gun control bill in the history of the United States, the Gun Control Act. But as he put pen to paper he felt a twinge of genuine regret.

The president had lobbied Congress hard for a tough gun control bill in response to growing crime and the tragic assassinations of President John F. Kennedy; Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Bobby Kennedy. Johnson wanted legislation that would stop “hardened criminals, or alcoholics, or drug addicts or mentally unstable [Americans]” from getting guns. He gushed to federal legislators about a licensing law in New Jersey that denied 540 dangerous people access to firearms in its first six months of operation.

Ladd Everitt

Ladd Everitt is a comms pro & gun control expert who’s worked for Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, George Takei's One Pulse for America, and Million Mom March.