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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 federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database. (Note that state files are not always included in the federal database.)

Wisconsin is a point of contact state for handgun purchaser background checks only.1 In Wisconsin, firearms dealers must initiate the background check required by federal law by contacting the Wisconsin Department of Justice (“DOJ”). For long gun (rifle and shotgun) transfers, dealers must contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation.2

Before sale of a handgun, a handgun dealer must request a records search from DOJ and receive a confirmation number confirming the request. In 2015, Wisconsin repealed a long-standing requirement that the dealer must then wait 48 hours before transferring the handgun. The new law provides that the dealer may transfer the handgun upon receiving an approval number from DOJ.3 If the DOJ search indicates that is unclear whether the potential purchaser is prohibited from purchasing a firearm, DOJmust notify the dealer of the results no later than 5 working days after the search was requested.4

Regarding a prospective handgun transferee, the dealer must do the following, in the sequence listed, to obtain the proper information prior to requesting an approval number from DOJ:

  • Require each handgun transferee to show to the dealer a reliable identification document, such as a motor vehicle operator’s license or state-issued identification card that includes the licensee or card holder’s photograph;
  • Inspect the transferee’s identification document, including the photograph, and ensure that it accurately and reliably identifies the transferee;
  • Require the transferee to complete, in triplicate, an official DOJ-issued notification form. The dealer shall provide one copy to the transferee when either the handgun is transferred or when notification of non-approval is given to the transferee. Within 24 hours after the dealer receives DOJ notification that the transfer is either approved or not approved, the dealer shall mail one copy of the completed form to DOJ. The dealer shall retain the completed original form; and
  • Following the transferee’s completion of the notification form, the dealer shall telephone DOJ and request a record search, conveying all material information on the notification form to DOJ.5

Wisconsin law specifies that particular searches that DOJ must conduct to determine whether a person is prohibited from possessing a firearm under various provisions of Wisconsin and federal law.6

Wisconsin does not require private sellers (sellers who are not licensed dealers) to initiate a background check when transferring a firearm. For information about private sale background checks see our Universal Background Checks policy summary.


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  1. ATF, “Permanent Brady State Lists,” accessed October 8, 2020,[]
  2. Id.[]
  3. Wis. Stat. § 175.35[]
  4. Id.[]
  5. Wis. Admin. Code Jus § 10.06(1).[]
  6. See Wis. Stat. § 175.35(1)(at) (listing the specific searches that DOJ conducts).[]