See our Background Checks policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.
Federal law requires federally licensed firearms dealers (but not unlicensed sellers) to initiate a background check on the purchaser prior to sale of a firearm. Federal law provides states with the option of serving as a state “point of contact” and conducting their own background checks using state, as well as federal, records and databases, or having the checks performed by the FBI using only the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database. (Note that state files are not always included in the federal database.)
In Virginia, all firearms transfers by licensed dealers are processed directly through the Department of State Police (“DSP”) which enforces the federal purchaser prohibitions referenced above.1
Before transferring a firearm from his or her inventory, a licensed dealer must:
- Require a prospective purchaser to present one piece of government issued photo-identification that demonstrates that the prospective purchaser resides in Virginia;
- Obtain the purchaser’s written consent to a background check and the other information on a consent form;
- Request criminal history record information regarding the purchaser by a telephone call to or other communication authorized by DSP; and
- Provide DSP with the name, birth date, gender, race, citizenship, and social security and/or any other identification number of the purchaser, and the number of firearms by category intended to be transferred.2
In 2016, Virginia repealed a requirement that a prospective purchaser present documentation of Virginia residency besides a photo ID.3
The DSP must generally process each dealer’s background check request “during the dealer’s call [to the DSP], or by return call without delay.”4 Virginia law provides that most background checks must be processed by the end of the following business day, or the dealer is free to complete the transfer (although federal law may continue to prohibit the transfer for 3 business days).5 Non-residents seeking to purchase a handgun are treated differently, and the DSP is allowed up to 10 days to process background checks in those situations.6
A Virginia law passed in 2015 provides that a firearm dealer may, prior to selling, renting, trading, or transferring any firearm owned by the dealer but not in his inventory, require the transferee to consent to have the dealer obtain criminal history record information from DSP to determine if the transferee is prohibited from possessing or transporting a firearm by state or federal law.7
See the Retention of Sales / Background Check Records in Virginia for more information.
Virginia does not require “private” sellers (sellers who are not licensed dealers) to initiate a background check when transferring a firearm. See our Universal Background Checks policy summary for more information.