Buying Guns During a Government Shutdown: What You Need to Know

During the most recent government shutdown, U.S. & Texas LawShield received many calls from our members concerned on how their ability to purchase firearms was being affected. With the possibility of another shutdown coming on February 8, we asked one of our Independent Program Attorneys to answer these questions for you.

This weekend’s government shutdown may have only lasted a couple of days but it raised some important questions for gun owners. For instance, if the federal government shuts down, what does it mean for our ability to purchase firearms? To answer this question, we have to know some background information.

When you purchase a firearm through a Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealer, you are required to fill out ATF Form 4473. From there, the FFL submits your 4473 to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to ensure that you are eligible to purchase firearms. The results are often immediate but can take up to three days. As long as FBI employees supporting NICS are at work, firearms purchases should be business as usual.

When Congress can’t pass a budget—as happened on January 19—federal operations cease, and federal employees deemed “nonessential” are furloughed indefinitely. “Essential” employees continue reporting to work during the shutdown (though sometimes without pay). Essential personnel are those considered necessary for the protection of life and property, including operations within law enforcement agencies such as the FBI.

According to the Department of Justice, “All operations of the FBI are directed toward national security and investigations of violations of law involving protection of life and property,” so they are considered “essential.” In fact, almost every employee that supports the NICS is deemed essential and will continue to work during a shutdown.

In addition, under the Brady Act— a handgun carry permit serves as an alternative to the background check for some states. For example, a Texas LTC qualifies for this exception. So, in the unlikely event of a NICS shutdown, your state’s handgun carry permit could take the place of an FBI background check when you’re purchasing a firearm.

A government shutdown may cause most federal operations to stop in their tracks, but the FBI will remain hard at work, and as a result, so will your Second Amendment rights. Congress’ most recent compromise will only extend through early-February so, another shutdown may be on the horizon. But, there’s no reason to worry about purchasing firearms. Those in charge of processing your Form 4473 will be working, even when other federal employees are not.

-Kassidy Montgomery, Independent Program Attorney U.S. & Texas LawShield

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