NICS call answering speed nearly doubled in 2016

Agents at the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System division took nearly twice as long to answer calls in 2016, according to a federal report released last month.

The average answer speed increased 62 percent from 281 seconds to just over 449 seconds — meaning federally-licensed firearms dealers waited on hold an average of about seven minutes to receive verbal approval from the Department of Justice on a background check application.

The answering speed has increased five-fold over the last three years, according to the 2016 NICS Operational Report.

The increased call volume forced a change in procedure for the FBI’s NICS Section: On Tuesdays and Wednesdays from October through December of last year, flagged applications requiring follow-up with the agency over the phone automatically fell into delayed status.

“The temporary process change would help the NICS Section to dedicate the needed time to quickly resolve transactions and allow the FFLs to avoid being in a holding pattern for extended periods of time while their call was being transferred to the NICS Section,” the report read.

Likewise, the number of “abandoned” calls — the term used to describe a retailer who simply hangs up rather than waiting on hold — doubled in 2016 to 6.48 percent. In 2013, the abandoned call rate came in at 1.53 percent.

The delays came as no surprise considering the sheer volume of applications flooding NICS: 27.5 million processed in 2016, the busiest year on record.

NICS applications this year lag about 1 million behind.