Get PolitiFact in your inbox.
If Your Time is short
- Licensed gun sellers use the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, NICS, to determine people’s eligibility to purchase firearms.
- The system consists of three databases that contain information on criminal histories, arrest warrants and protective orders.
- One of the three databases had technical problems on Election Day, causing the system to be unavailable for about an hour. The problem was then fixed.
Following multiple false claims about voter disenfranchisement during the midterm elections, an Instagram video suggests that an Election Day computer glitch that briefly prevented people from buying guns was not a coincidence.
The Nov. 8 video features a man addressing the camera while standing in a wooded area. He mentions "voting irregularities" in Arizona, New York and Pennsylvania before talking about a computer glitch involving firearm purchases.
"The thing you should be most alarmed about and most worried about is the system that they use to do background checks so you can go purchase a firearm magically goes down on Election Day," he said. He later added, "They removed your ability to go buy firearms the day of election."
He appears to be referring to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, NICS, which the FBI maintains.
"Election machine problems. The Power Ball system goes down. And the system used for BACKGROUND checks has gone down with no idea when they will be back up and running," says the caption on the video.
The Instagram post was flagged as part of Instagram’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
The FBI told PolitiFact one of the databases the background check system uses was unavailable for about an hour Nov. 8. The FBI said it was a technical issue; the agency did not specify which database was affected or what caused the glitch. The problem was then fixed and people could undergo background checks to purchase firearms on Election Day.
The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act established the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in 1993 and required a person to undergo a federal background check when buying a firearm from a licensed gun seller.
The system draws on information from three databases maintained by the FBI to determine their eligibility for a gun: the Interstate Identification Index, which contains a national record of criminal convictions; the National Crime Information Center, with information on people with arrest warrants or protection orders filed against them; and the NICS Indices, which contain information from federal and state agencies about people barred from possessing guns for reasons such as mental incompetence.
If people appear in any of the three databases, the FBI recommends that sellers deny them a gun, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
The entire background check system did not malfunction on Election Day, but because one component wasn’t functioning, the system was "technically unable to provide a complete background check until all components were functional," the FBI said.
The outage didn’t keep people from buying guns for the entire day because of the midterms, as the video suggested.
An Instagram video says, "They removed your ability to go buy firearms the day of election."
One of three databases that comprise the National Instant Criminal Background Check System had unexpected technical problems on Election Day, causing the system to be unavailable for about an hour. The problem was then fixed.
We rate this claim False.
PolitiFact, "We fact-checked misinformation about the midterm elections, from Maricopa County to Detroit," Nov. 9, 2022
FBI, About NICS, accessed Nov. 30, 2022
Email with Manali Basu, FBI spokesperson, Nov. 22, 2022
Bureau of Justice Statistics, NICS Act Record Improvement Program, accessed Nov. 30, 2022
Read About Our Process
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.