Traveling After a Firearm Purchase Denial

Most of my clients have a concealed weapons permit (CWP) and will pass a background check in a minute. However, some people are not so lucky. Perhaps it was a foolish act as a kid, an incorrect report, or just a mistake of identity. Regardless of the initial cause, a Denial to purchase a firearm has consequences, and some of those are not readily apparent.

Denial to Purchase a Firearm

So what does a Denial mean? This occurs when the National Criminal Instant Check System (NICS) identifies a purchaser as prohibited from owning a gun. NICS informs the shop that the person is denied, an entry is made on a completed Form 4473 at the shop, and NICS notifies the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Unlike a background check where a Proceed is issued and the search deleted, a Denial is stored for future reference. This can be used in future background checks, or it may be used to prosecute someone who ‘lied’ on a Federal Form. (For the record, a very small percentage of Denials are ever selected for prosecution, and this may be a function of a high number of false positives.)

Traveling After a Denial

There is at least one more instance where a Denial record is used against the attempted purchaser. When entering the country, a traveler will have his passport examined and stamped. During that process, Customs compares the traveler’s name against a database. If certain entries appear, the traveler will (or can) be selected for ‘secondary screening’.

Not all ports (which includes airports) use the same indicators. However, at least one port uses a firearm Denial record as a flag for a secondary screening.

A First Hand Story

A client received a Denial in the spring. He hired me, and we managed to overturn the Denial because his fingerprints did not match the fingerprints in the prohibiting entry. His case was a classic ‘false positive’, and his Unique Personal Identification Number (UPIN) was issued to him.

During the holidays my client traveled overseas for vacation and returned to the US via an international airport. When checking in with Customs, he was removed from the normal screening process and escorted to a secure room. At this time he had no idea why he was selected.In the secure screening room, an agent informed my client he was selected because of his earlier Denial from purchasing a handgun. My client expressed his surprise and told the agent that his attorney had cleared the Denial with the FBI as a false positive. The agent returned to his computer notes, acknowledged seeing an entry confirming my client’s claim, and then stamped my client’s passport. The agent apologized for the delay and sent my client on his way.

What Does This Mean?

Several conclusions can be drawn from this account. First is the FBI keeps a database with entries for every Denial issued. Second is that said database is shared with Customs. (The database probably keeps more information and is shared with additional agencies.) Third is that you can be harassed if your name appears in that database.

How long is this entry maintained in the database? That’s a good question to which I do not have an answer. What type of questions or screening would a traveler receive if his Denial was not overturned? Another good question. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will admit a standard procedure exists, but CBP refuses to disclose the same without a FOIA request. Does TSA have access to this same database? I do not have a definitive answer, but my client was not questioned when boarding the departing plane.

If you have been denied from purchasing a gun, and you want to travel, be prepared to deal with a secondary screening. Addressing the Denial may make this process much easier, but know that appealing your denial may require significant time.

If this affects you, or someone you know, I will be happy to help. Do not hesitate to reach out to me.