Do Pawn Shops Run Background Checks for Guns?

Pawn shops have to get licensing to sell firearms (guns). They get this through the federal (United States) government. Because they go through the federal government, they have to follow federal rules.

One of these rules is that pawn shops need to run background checks on anyone who wants to buy a firearm. This often refers to criminal history checks. But, it can include other checks.

Some other background checks a pawn shop may run include;

  • Credit history
  • Driving records
  • Education records
  • Drug screening
  • Mental health history
  • Military history (dishonorable discharge)

Pawn shops keep record of all firearm sales. This includes information about the firearm, serial number, and buyer’s ID. This helps to keep track of the gun and owner.

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) processes all applications. This is a federal agency, so they are aware of all laws and regulations.

But, a criminal conviction is not an automatic disqualification from owning a firearm. It depends on your state and the nature of the crime. Read below for more information on background checks and firearm laws.

Types of Background Checks

Each type of background check looks for different information. Some relate to your criminal conviction and some do not.

Credit history

This check helps to determine how responsible you are with finances. Some things that build credit include credit cards and loans. Paying on time and having a longer credit history can help build your score.

Driving records

This check will show accident, driving violation, and DUI history. Driving skill does not affect firearm usage. But this does help to show responsibility.

Education history

This shows your high school diploma or GED and any other degree you earned.

Drug screening

Some state laws prohibit drug addicts or users from buying firearms. Drug screenings will detect both illegal and prescription drugs. If you have a valid prescription, then you are not disqualified because of it.

Mental health history

Health information does not always show on a background check. But, it may if it relates to your criminal conviction. For example, psychiatric evaluations during your sentence may appear.

Involuntary commission to a psychiatric facility may disqualify you. The court may also have an order against you buying firearms on the basis of your mental health history. But, mental health history will not disqualify you otherwise.

Military history

This will show any history of military service. Federal law prohibits anyone who received a dishonorable discharge from buying firearms.

Who Can Own a Firearm?

Criminal histories can sometimes disqualify you from being able to buy firearms. In every state, federal law prohibits convicted felons from buying firearms.

For misdemeanor offenses, laws vary from state to state. Generally, violent misdemeanors will disqualify you from being able to buy firearms.

Being on the sex offender registry does not disqualify you from buying a firearm. But, sex offenders are sometimes denied the right to own guns.

For instance, they may not be able to have a firearm if they have a protection order against them. A protection order is like a restraining order. It prohibits the offender from contacting or being near the person who has the order.

Probation and parole may also prohibit you from buying a firearm. State laws may not prohibit you from owning them. But, terms of probation and parole will. If you violate the terms of probation or parole, that is a crime.

Can Others in the Household Own Firearms?

Some states prohibit felons from living with someone who owns a firearm. The state could find you guilty of possession even if you are not the owner.

If you are aware that the firearm is in the house and that you have access to it, then the state may charge you. This is not true everywhere, though. Laws will vary from one state to the next.

This is the same with misdemeanors. While not all states prohibit you from owning a firearm, they could still charge you on these grounds.

Private Firearm Sales

There are other ways to buy firearms besides getting them at a pawn shop. Trade shows and online venues are some examples.

These venues will rarely do background checks. But, laws still apply even if they do not run background checks.

So, if the law would prohibit you from buying a firearm from a pawn shop, then it would be the same for buying elsewhere.

Restoring Firearm Ownership Rights

So, let’s say that you have a conviction that prohibits you from owning a firearm. But, you are a changed person and believe that the state should allow you to own one. Do you have any options for restoring your rights?

Yes, you do have options for restoring your firearm rights. This will also vary by state, though. So, depending on your state and specific crime, this may or may not be an option.

A few ways that you can restore your rights to own firearms include;

  • Expungement
  • Pardons
  • Set aside
  • Certificates

There will likely be court fees for each of these.


One common way that people think of to have their rights restored is by getting their record cleared. Expungement is the official term for this.

This is the process where the court rules for the criminal conviction to no longer be on your record. So, in real world application, it makes it seem as though the crime never happened in the first place.

Your criminal conviction will still be on your legal records. But, it will not show up on background checks. It also will not get in your way of buying firearms, from pawn shops or anywhere else.

Each state has a different set of rules for who qualifies to have their record expunged. Certain crimes are not eligible, such as some violent or sexual offenses. You will need to check with the court about whether you are eligible.

There is also usually a time rule. This means that a certain number of years must have passed since your conviction. You have to have kept a clean record during this time. The number is different in every state.

To get a record expunged, you need to go through the court. You might want to enlist an attorney’s help. But, this is not completely necessary.

Contact the local courthouse to find out more information about the process.


Pardons are when the state government acknowledges your crime, but offers forgiveness. This shows that you have changed and are no longer a risk as a firearm owner. This is only available for certain crimes, depending on your state.

Although this is not accepted everywhere in the US, pardons may give you the ability to buy firearms. The crime will stay on your record and background checks. But, it will show that the state has pardoned you.

You also need to go through the court for this.

Set Aside

A set aside is when one court nullifies a decision by another. Like expungement, this removes the crime from your record.

Like with the other options, this is not available for all crimes. You may also still need to be on a state registry, such as sex offender or child abuse.

You can request this through your local court.


Depending on your state, a variety of certificates are available to you. Some examples include Certificates of Rehabilitation and Certificate of Good Conduct.

The state government will grant a person a certificate on the basis that they are no longer a risk to society. These do not take the crime off your record. But, they do show that you are safe to own a firearm.

Each state differs in its requirements. Usually, a certain amount of time must have passed since your conviction. Certificates are also not available for all crimes.

You need to petition for a certificate through the local court. You also need to have evidence to support that you have changed. This can include employment, education, therapy or classes, recommendation letters, etc.


You should now have an understanding of what crimes will take away your right to buy firearms. Pawn shops run background checks, but the laws still apply even for sellers that do not.

Do not get discouraged if a shop denied a firearm sale to you. There are still ways, like the ones mentioned above, for you to buy firearms.

Make sure you are on your best behavior after your conviction. Contribute as a productive member of society. With this, you may be able to restore your rights.


Aizman, D. (2018, October 5). The complete guide to obtaining a certificate or rehabilitation. Retrieved from

Bureau of Justice Statistics. (1999). Background checks for firearm transfers, 1999. Retrieved from

Pardon information and instructions. (2018). Retrieved from

San Jose State University (2018). Criminal record clearing in a nutshell. Retrieved from

What is expungement? (2018). Retrieved from

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