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 Federal law requires federally licensed firearms dealers (but not private sellers) to initiate a background check on the purchaser prior to sale of a firearm. Federal law provides states with the option of serving as a state “point of contact” and conducting their own background checks using state, as well as federal, records and databases, or having the checks performed by the FBI using only the  National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database. (Note that state files are not always included in the federal database.)

Iowa is a partial point of contact state for NICS. The county sheriffs and the Iowa Department of Public Safety (IDPS) serve as partial state points of contact for background checks on prospective handgun purchasers, with county sheriffs conducting checks on applicants for five-year permits to acquire a handgun or permits to a carry concealed handgun, and the IDPS conducting handgun-related checks for state employees and non-residents.1 The FBI performs NICS checks for long gun purchases to enforce the federal purchaser prohibitions referenced above.2

For information about persons prohibited by federal or state law from possessing or purchasing a firearm, see the Firearm Prohibitions in Iowa section.

Under federal law, persons who have been issued state permits to purchase or possess firearms are exempt from background checks if those permits were issued: 1) within the previous five years in the state in which the transfer is to take place; and 2) after an authorized government official has conducted a background investigation, including a search of the NICS database, to verify that possession of a firearm would not be unlawful.3 Holders of permits to acquire a handgun and permits to carry concealed weapons in Iowa are exempt from background checks when purchasing a firearm, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) chart  that outlines those permits that qualify as alternatives to the Brady Act. Please note that ATF’s exempt status determination is subject to change without notice.

For information about the reporting of mental health information for use in firearm purchaser background checks, see the Iowa Mental Health Reporting section.

A private (i.e. unlicensed) seller and a purchaser involved in a handgun sales transaction must both possess a valid five-year permit to acquire handguns, subjecting both parties to background checks. Long-gun transfers by private sellers are not subject to background checks in Iowa, although federal and state purchaser prohibitions still apply. For more information, see the page on Universal Background Checks in Iowa.

 See our Background Check Procedures policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue. 

  1. See Iowa Code §§ 724.16 – 724.21A; Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Instant Criminal Background Check System Participation Map, at (last visited Aug. 12, 2015).[]
  2. Id.[]
  3. 18 U.S.C. § 922(t)(3), 27 C.F.R. § 478.102(d).[]