Dont Worry, You Can Still Buy a Gun During a Government Shutdown

Firearms subject to background checks performed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation can still be purchased during the government shutdown, which began Saturday morning after Republicans and Democrats were unable to agree on a funding deal. 

Plenty of government resources will temporarily shutter, including cultural institutions, parts of the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Housing Administration. Even Health and Human Services funding for combating the flu epidemic will dry up. Some FBI personnel, however, are not subject to furlough, according to a Department of Justice contingency plan provided by an FBI spokeswoman.

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In the fall of 2013, the last time the government faced a shutdown, gun enthusiasts were concerned the system would come to a halt and the National Rifle Association issued a statement saying there was nothing to fear after receiving a number of inquiries on the topic from members. 

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“Excepted personnel are needed because all operations of the FBI are directed toward national security and investigations of violations of law involving protection of life and property. Thus, the FBI must be able to continue existing investigations, open new investigations, and respond to all contingencies which might arise during a lapse of appropriations,” the DOJ contingency plan states.

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This includes those who work “in the Criminal Justice Information Services Division, which provides fingerprint identification services to criminal and national security investigations, and the Records Management Division, which provides name check services to criminal and national security investigations. Excepted personnel also include nearly all federal employees supporting the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).”

Despite its name, the system is not in fact always instant, and responses can be delayed and require intervention from a NICS examiner. Without NICS staff on duty, some firearms purchases which require such checks could be entirely halted at a time when the industry is already experiencing a slump in sales. 

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