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Federal law requires federally licensed firearms dealers (but not unlicensed 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 federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database. (Note that state files are not always included in the federal database.)

In Virginia, all firearms transfers by licensed dealers are processed directly through the Department of State Police (“DSP”) which enforces the federal purchaser prohibitions referenced above.1

Before transferring a firearm from his or her inventory, a licensed dealer must:

  • Require a prospective purchaser to present one piece of government issued photo-identification, and if the purchaser is a dual resident of Virginia and another state, proof of residency in Virginia;
  • Obtain the purchaser’s written consent to a background check and the other information on a consent form;
  • Request criminal history record information regarding the purchaser by a telephone call to or other communication authorized by DSP; and
  • Provide DSP with the name, birth date, gender, race, citizenship, and social security and/or any other identification number of the purchaser, and the number of firearms by category intended to be transferred.2

The DSP must generally process each dealer’s background check request “during the dealer’s call [to the DSP], or by return call without delay,” however, if the dealer is told by the State Police that a response will not be available by the end of the dealer’s fifth business day, the dealer may immediately complete the sale or transfer.3

Virginia law also provides that a firearm dealer may, prior to selling, renting, trading, or transferring any firearm owned by the dealer but not in his inventory, require the transferee to consent to have the dealer obtain criminal history record information from DSP to determine if the transferee is prohibited from possessing or transporting a firearm by state or federal law.4

See the Retention of Sales / Background Check Records in Virginia for more information.

Virginia also generally requires “private” sellers (sellers who are not licensed dealers) to initiate a background check when transferring a firearm. See our Universal Background Checks in Virginia for more information.


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  1. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-308.2:2.[]
  2. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-308.2:2(B)(1), (C).[]
  3. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-308.2:2(B)(2).[]
  4. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-308.2:2(Q).[]