Background Checks

Requiring comprehensive, universal background checks on all gun sales would decrease gun violence in Wisconsin and across the country.

What Are Background Checks?

Federally licensed firearm dealers are required by federal law to conduct a background check on gun-buyers through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). If a buyer is prohibited from purchasing a gun for any reason (e.g., previous violent crimes), the system will alert the dealer not to sell the individual the firearm. Background checks are quick, easy, secure, and accurate.1

“There is near unanimous support (92 percent) for requiring background checks for all gun buyers.” 2

2022 Quinnipiac Poll

Americans overwhelmingly support universal background checks. Even in our state, which has deep, longstanding hunting and sport-shooting traditions, polls show that 80% of Wisconsinites support universal background checks.3

Why Do We Need Them?

You may wonder why universal background checks are necessary when licensed dealers already need to run background checks on buyers. There is a highly deadly loophole: unlicensed sellers (e.g., online and at gun shows) do not perform background checks. This private sale loophole allows just about anyone to buy a gun with no background check, no identification, and no questions asked.  

Millions of people, including those ineligible to purchase firearms and those who intend to use the gun in a crime, buy from unlicensed dealers and exploit this private sale loophole.4  

Criminals buy firearms from unlicensed dealers to avoid background checks.

Are They Effective?

In states that have implemented universal background checks, they have been extremely effective at reducing gun violence. 

For example, in the ten years following Connecticut’s passage of its law requiring prospective handgun buyers first to get a permit – by passing a criminal background check – firearm homicides declined by 40%.5

Wisconsin needs to close the background check loophole and require background checks for all gun sales.


[1] “About NICS | Federal Bureau of Investigation.” Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2016, www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/nics/about-nics.
[2] “Nearly 3 out of 4 Support Raising Legal Age to Buy Any Gun, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Support for Assault Weapons Ban Hits a Low | Quinnipiac University Poll.” Poll.qu.edu, poll.qu.edu/poll-release?releaseid=3848.
[3] Detailed Results of the Marquette Law School Poll, August 25-29,2019. law.marquette.edu/poll/2019/09/04/. Accessed 24 Aug. 2022.
[4] Miller, Matthew, et al. “Firearm Acquisition without Background Checks.” Annals of Internal Medicine, vol. 166, no. 4, 3 Jan. 2017, p. 233, annals.org/aim/fullarticle/2595892/firearm-acquisition-without-background-checks-results-national-survey, 10.7326/m16-1590.
[5] Rudolph KE, Stuart EA, Vernick JS, Webster DW. Association Between Connecticut’s Permit-to-Purchase Handgun Law and Homicides. American Journal of Public Health. 2015;105(8):e49-e54. doi:10.2105/ajph.2015.302703

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