Universal Background Checks

Universal Background Checks

Pennsylvania’s background checks system is one of the best in the nation. But, a critical loophole allows the purchase of semi-automatic military style assault rifles and other long guns from an individual without a background check. That endangers the public.

PA Background Checks Include:


  • National Instant Check System

  • Criminal History Records

  • Juvenile Delinquency Records

  • Mental Health Records

  • Protection From Abuse Orders

  • Wanting or Missing Person File


Individuals will be denied a firearm purchase if their record includes violent crimes, a final protection from abuse order, or for other notable reasons on your record.

1.4 million Background Checks in 2020

gun store counter with pistol and paperwork

Anytime you buy a firearm from a federally licensed firearm seller, they run a background check to help prevent gun violence before it happens. In 2020, that totalled more than 1.4 million background checks were conducted on the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS). The average wait time for the majority of approval: under 5 minutes.

This efficient system halted 27,000 gun sales to individuals with a violent criminal record, a clear history of abuse, or serious dangers. Each one of those denials is a potential life saved, a community kept together.

But a loophole means some of those individuals may have turned around to buy a gun from an individual without any background check.

Loophole makes mass shootings possible

In 2019, a gunman killed 7 and injured 25 more in a killing spree in Odessa, Texas. He bought the semi-automatic military style rifle from a private seller. It was his only option to buy a gun and he knew it. A few years earlier, he had been denied a sale due to mental health records revealed during a background check. 

That same loophole exists in Pennsylvania. You do not need a background check to buy a long gun such as rifles, shotguns or military-style assault weapons from individuals. Think about it: private sellers with arguably the least amount of accountability in the event of a tragedy can sell the deadliest guns that can fire 100 bullets in minutes–in a parking lot, or at someone’s home, or after arranging online to meet in person without so much as asking for a name, let alone running a background check.

A background check for every gun sale

It’s time to close this loophole. Senate Bill 60 and HB 714 would ensure that all gun sales in PA need the same checks to keep weapons out of the hands of those who want to hurt others.

Next Steps

flowers at Squirrel Hill memorial

The weapon of choice in mass shootings

Firearms that can shoot more than 100 bullets a minute are the reason mass shootings are so deadly. The lack of a background check for some sales puts everyone at risk.

Victory! PA now shares its mental health records with the federal database.

Including mental health records

Our advocacy led to mental health records being shared with the National Instant check system.

Universal Background Checks are in reach

Selling the deadliest firearms out of your car or parking lot doesn’t require a background check. It’s time we change that.

Take a Stand

We’ll never stop fighting for a safe, gun violence-free Pennsylvania. If you share that goal, power our efforts today.

Facing the truth about gun violence in PA