There’s No Such Thing As a “National Background Check”

Nick Fishman

Background Checks







As I’m sure you can imagine, the search term “background check” has skyrocketed on the internet due to the tidal wave of stories about toughening the checks associated with gun ownership. For the last month, my Google alerts are filled with these stories every day even though they have nothing to do with employee background checks (someday Google will just know what I want). Generally, I just ignore them and look for the next thing that peaks my interest. Well, today I came across a Wall Street Journal article that exposed the criminal background checks that are used by gun shops for the Swiss cheese that they are. See below.

Polls show that expanding background checks to cover all gun sales, not just those by licensed dealers, is one of the most popular measures being considered by the White House to curb gun violence. There’s one problem: The system President Barack Obama and many lawmakers hope to expand is full of holes. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which federally licensed firearm dealers must use to check the credentials of potential gun buyers, doesn’t include millions of people legally barred from owning guns, researchers and advocates say. Fourteen states list fewer than five people flagged for mental-health issues.

“Many states are still failing to do the bare minimum,” said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which studied the matter in a 2011 report. “We know they have hundreds of thousands of records sitting in state agencies.”

If this is about gun ownership databases, why should we care?

I thought this would be a good opportunity to connect the dots a little. For years a number of our politicians, the media and general public have held out that the so-called National Background Check was the holy grail of all criminal background checks. When any major employee violence or breach occurred, people would wonder why the company neglected to conduct a “National Background Check”. The Wall Street Journal article gives us some insight into why a true “National Background Check” is simply a myth.

There is no centralized database of all criminal records. Even the FBI database which many consider the most concise of all is is known to contain only 50-55% of all records. There are a number of reasons for this. First and foremost, these databases were meant for law enforcement, not for determining whether someone was eligible for employment or to own a gun. Secondly, under any circumstance, there is a limitation on the types of records that a state is mandated to provide. Third, it is unclear if the states are even providing that data often enough it at all.

Someday, when the privacy lobby goes away and when local governments become so flush with cash that they can bring all of their court records online perhaps there will be a unified national criminal background check. Until that time, the best practice for employment background screening will always be to conduct local court searches in each county where a person has lived and under each name they have used as an adult. Commercial/State criminal record repositories can and should be used as a complement to that search.

So unfortunately when it comes to gun ownership and gun control, the same principle applies. There is no such thing as an effective “National Background Check”. The politicians are really going to have to roll up their sleeves on this.  From the standpoint of demanding the best possible background check, perhaps they should consider the method we use for our clients. Would it be more expensive than an instant check? Yes. Would it take longer? Yes. Would it be more reliable? Absolutely.

Are you unsure if your criminal background checks are finding all of the information?

Download our article, Time for a Wake Up Call: Are Your Criminal Background Checks Giving You a False Sense of Security? to find out if you’re receiving a comprehensive background check from your provider.

Nick Fishman
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Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.
Nick Fishman
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  • Thanks for “clearing the air” Nick. I think many are under the misconception that there is a National database. I also agree with your points concerning what information is “bumped” up through the court system.

    For years I have explained to my clients that while, ideally, records from the magistrate level should be “bumped up” to the county, and state level, this is often not the case.

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    Interesting read. I’ve always wondered how they could possibly run a check so quickly and be accurate. Now I realize, they can’t – it’s like “swiss cheese”.

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