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State Progress in Record Reporting for Firearm-Related Background Checks: Unlawful Drug Users

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2017
13 pages
This bulletin examines the challenges and opportunities in identifying drug users who are prohibited from purchasing firearms under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 (Brady Act).
Under the Brady Act,, being an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance prohibits a person from receiving firearms. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Improvement Amendments Act (NIAA) of 2007 defines "unlawful drug use" records as those that identify a person unlawfully using or addicted to a controlled substance, as demonstrated by specified arrests, convictions, and adjudications that are not protected from disclosure to the Attorney General by Federal or State law. There are several challenges in making illegal-drug-use records available for NICS checks. The lack of centralized records management systems for law enforcement agencies makes it difficult to report drug arrests and obtain lab reports that may not be obtained for weeks or months after an arrest. Drug courts often misunderstand which records are reportable to the NICS index or may be reluctant to report illegal drug use as a violation in a person's terms of supervision. Other impediments to creating comprehensive and accurate data on persons who have unlawfully used drugs are also discussed; however, the increased awareness of the need to develop and report drug use records to NCIC has led to some progress. The promising practices identified in this bulletin can provide guidelines for States in improving their collection and submission of data on persons who have unlawfully used drugs, thus disqualifying them from receiving a firearm. Personnel training and automation of data management are critical in this effort.

Date Published: July 1, 2017