Gun Sale Background Checks: Blockchain Can Help

This past week, the NRA and advocates for gun safety and common sense gun laws found common ground: background checks. According to both sides, gun purchasers should be subjected to rigorous background checks. This is an excellent starting point for a constructive and productive dialogue.

The majority of Americans agree that background checks make sense. But progress in establishing a system for background checks has been impeded over the years by legacy infrastructure, outdated technology, and policy disagreements about what data should be shared. “Background checks” is an easy concept to communicate, but doing an actual background check is exceptionally complex.

A blockchain-based background check system would offer several benefits over the existing technological infrastructure, including reduced administrative costs, reduced fraud, and increased confidence in the veracity of search results.

What Is Blockchain?

Blockchain, the underlying technology that powers bitcoin, is one of “the” buzzwords of the past year. Practically everyone is talking about blockchain, and for good reason. Distributed ledgers, the term of art for blockchain’s underlying technology, offer an exciting new way to transact without a central authority.
A blockchain, or distributed ledger, is a continuously growing list (digital file) of encrypted transactions called “blocks” that are distributed (copied) to a peer-to-peer (P2P) network of computers. In a background check blockchain, each block would contain agreed-upon data suitable for determining whether or not a firearm should be sold to a particular customer.

Please read “What is Blockchain?” to learn exactly how blockchains work.

The Current System

Today, several databases must be accessed in order to do a federally compliant background check. First, a federally licensed dealer (a person or organization with a Federal Firearms License, or FFL) accesses the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, then the Interstate Identification Index (III), and finally the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Index. This is done via telephone or the internet. If there is no match, the sale may proceed. However, the FBI has three business days to seek additional information (from the judiciary or law enforcement records) to approve or deny a sale. Some states have their own NICS databases. In some states, the state does handgun background checks, and then the state passes information to the FBI for rifle and shotgun background checks. If you think this is starting to sound complicated, it is. There are all kinds of rules and regulations at local, state, and federal levels about how to enter someone into the system and who may be exempted.

So How Would Blockchain Help?

If all of this data were available on distributed ledgers, background checks would be more comprehensive and few, if any, transactions would be approved because officials had failed to find any additional data within the three-day time period.

Local, tribal, state, and federal agencies would have to agree to participate, as would law enforcement and the judicial departments. But if they all participate, all of the necessary background data would be encrypted and living in immutable blocks, ready to be searched. A blockchain containing this background check data would be valuable to every security agency (but that’s a topic for another article).

This Can Happen with Your Help

Whether we make the current NICS mandatory in every state or we find a way to use blockchain technology to improve the process. I believe this is common ground. So, let’s start with a common goal — if you support mandatory background checks, please join the Gun Safety Alliance (GSA), a coalition of business leaders who support the Second Amendment while advocating for gun safety and universal background checks. The GSA will help you channel your skills, your networks, and your energy to raise awareness of the facts about gun violence, accidental deaths, suicide, and domestic abuse, all with the goal of engaging citizens to push for sensible gun laws. Please join the GSA’s Facebook Group or follow @GunSafetyNow on Twitter.

Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.

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About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and writes a popular daily business blog. He's a bestselling author, and the creator of the popular, free online course, Generative AI for Execs. Follow @shellypalmer or visit



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