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.)
New York is a point of contact state for the NICS. As a result, in New York, firearms dealers must initiate the background check required by federal law by contacting the Division of State Police. 1
Background Checks for Firearm Transfers
Gun owners in NY must obtain a license prior to purchasing a handgun. The licensing process also involves a background check and other specific requirements applicants must meet to be eligible to purchase or own a firearm. See our page on Licensing in New York to learn more about these procedures.
In addition to the license requirement, New York law requires that a NICS background check be initiated by a licensed firearms dealer before the sale, exchange, or disposal of any firearm (including handguns), unless the transaction is between members of an immediate family. If a background check initiated by a dealer takes more than 30 days to clear, the dealer can proceed with the firearm transfer. Upon transfer of the firearm, the dealer must finalize a document that confirms that such a check was performed. All dealers must maintain transaction records on their premises and the records must be open at all reasonable hours for inspection by law enforcement. A dealer may charge a fee of up to $10.00 per transaction. Such records will not be considered a public record under New York Public Officers Law. Finally, any violations of these laws are punishable as a misdemeanor. 2
Background Checks for Ammunition Transfers
A seller of ammunition in New York cannot transfer ammunition to anyone other than a licensed firearms dealer unless the ammunition seller verifies the identity of the transferee by examining a valid state identification document (such as driver’s license) and contacts the statewide license and record database and provides the database with sufficient information to confirm that the transferee is eligible to possess ammunition. If the transferee is eligible to possess ammunition, the database will provide the seller with a unique identification number that corresponds to the transfer. This requirement will not apply if the background check cannot be completed because the system is not operational or cannot be accessed because of technical error.3
New York law has a statewide license and record database which is to be created and maintained by the Division of State Police. Records of granted licenses must be periodically checked by the Division of Criminal Justice Services against criminal conviction, mental health, and all other records necessary to determine their continued accuracy and whether the person is still a valid license holder. The Division of Criminal Justice Services must also check pending firearm license applications using the statewide database to determine whether a license may be granted. All state agencies must cooperate in making their records available for such checks.4
See Retention of Sales & Background Check Records in New York for related information.
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- N.Y. Exec. Law § 228, see NICS Participation Map, https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/nics-participation-map.pdf.
- N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 898; N.Y. Penal Law § 400.20; N.Y. Penal Law § 400.00 (12).
- N.Y. Penal Law § 400.03(3), (5).
- N.Y. Penal Law § 400.02.