Eliminating PICS

The Issue

There is an ongoing effort to eliminate the PA Instant Criminal Background Check System (PICS) and rely solely on the National Background Check System (NICS). PICS has been a highly effective system that prevents prohibited purchasers from obtaining firearms, offers access to a broader range of records than NICS and offers additional law enforcement benefits. We — along with the Pennsylvania State Police — believe the PICS system is critical to safety in PA and must be maintained.


The Facts

For the purpose of compliance with the Brady Act governing background checks for firearms purchases, Pennsylvania is a Point of Contact State. This means that Pennsylvania conducts its own background checks, checking both national and state databases for records that would establish someone to be a prohibited purchaser. PICS became operational on July 1, 1998.[1] PICS now handles on average at least one million background checks per year. From 1998 until 2016, PICS had blocked at least 160,000 sales to prohibited purchasers.[2 and 3]

The success of PICS is mirrored by the success of the background check system nationally. Since the federal system, NICS, has been in place, it has blocked over 3 million firearms sales to prohibited purchasers. [4] It is clear that the background check system works to prevent prohibited purchasers from buying guns, and it does so quickly and inexpensively.

According to the Pennsylvania State Police:

  • PICS includes records NICS does not, including full access to the Commonwealth Law Enforcement Access Network (“CLEAN”), which contains arrest warrants; all protection from abuse orders; and — until recently when 642,000 records were uploaded, certain mental health records.
  • PICS offers better procedures for keeping guns out of the hands of those who should not have them: under NICS procedures, if a determination cannot be made in three days, a sale can go through. [This is now known as the Charleston loophole, because that is how the shooter at the Charleston AME Church was able to purchase his firearm.] However, under PICS, a delay status may persist for fifteen days, after which the sale does not go through but the purchaser has a right to challenge the “undetermined” status. As Acting Deputy Commissioner Snyder stated, “the PICS process provides additional assurance that no firearm will be sold or transferred to a prohibited person once the background check is initiated.”
  • PICS offers an easier way for a denied purchaser to challenge the denial status, and in fact, unlike the NICS challenge process which places the burden on the challenger, the PICS challenge unit assumes the burden of proof and investigates the validity of the denial.[3]
  • PICS also has assisted in the capture of hundreds of fugitives by its identification and follow-up investigative procedures. “PICS also provides a proactive means to fight domestic violence. When a background check call is forwarded to a legal assistant and the subject has an outstanding protection from abuse order, PICS personnel immediately notify the applicable police agency that the subject is attempting to acquire a firearm.”[4]
  • Finally, PICS, unlike NICS, can provide law enforcement officers and agencies in Pennsylvania with a background check prior to returning firearms to those who are claiming a right to the firearm.[4]

Pennsylvania should be proud of the PICS system and ensure that we maintain it and appropriate the necessary funding to ensure it operates at full capacity.


What Should You Do

Ask you elected officials to oppose all efforts to eliminate or defund PICS.

[1] Pennsylvania State Police Testimony, Senate Committee on Law and Justice, May 11, 2011, at 1.

[2] Id. at 2..

[3] The Firearms Annual Report, Pennsylvania State Police (for years 2012-16), www.psp.pa.gov.

[4] https://everytownresearch.org/background-checks-loophole/ at 2-3.

[5] Id