About PICS (Pennsylvania Instant Check System)

The PICS was implemented on July 1, 1998. This system provides instant access to background records on an individual to determine if the person is eligible to acquire a firearm or  a license to carry a firearm. The Instant Check Unit is a call center conducting the background check requests. This responsibility requires ensuring accurate identification of the subject of the background check, evaluation and research of federal, state and local records, comprehensive documentation, and maintaining positive communication with Firearm Dealers and Sheriffs.

Pennsylvania Firearm Dealers and County Sheriffs access the PICS program through a toll free telephone number, which is available for service from 8:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. seven days a week, including holidays. If an individual is eligible to acquire a firearm, the PICS background check replaces the former, mandatory five-day waiting period. Operation has shown that approximately 60% of the individuals attempting to purchase a firearm are approved within minutes.

The PICS background check program issues approval or denial determinations. By law, no record information may be disseminated as a result of the background check. If a record is identified on an individual's background check, the call is transferred to an operator. The operator then reviews the record, and if it is not prohibiting, approves the sale. If there is a question as to whether or not the record is prohibiting, the operator may place the file in research for up to 15 days.

As soon as the operator has a definite answer, the dealer is called and either given an approval number or advised that the sale is denied and the individual should be given a Pennsylvania Instant Check Challenge Form.

To Submit a Pennsylvania Instant Check Challenge

The Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS) background check program issues approval or denial determinations.

When the PICS operator notifies the dealer that the transaction is denied or undetermined, the dealer will inform the applicant of their right to challenge by submitting a PICS Challenge Form SP4-197.  

State law now provides that the Challenge form must be submitted to the PICS Challenge Unit within 30 days of the date the individual is denied.  No personal information will be discussed by phone.

Challenges are not accepted from applicants who cancel their background check prior to completion of the transaction by PICS.  Only those individuals who have been denied or undetermined by a representative of PICS may submit a challenge form.

Any challenge form submitted that is incomplete or outdated will be returned to the challenger which will delay processing.  For a challenge to be complete, all four pages must be submitted: parts I, II, and III on page one must be complete and page four must be signed and dated by the challenger. 

The Pennsylvania State Police will respond in writing within 5 business days of receipt of a properly executed challenge form. Challengers are encouraged to provide additional information for the purpose of review, such as information regarding dispositions on old arrest records, etc. that may be helpful in expediting the challenge process.   Within 60 days of receipt of a valid challenge, a final decision will be provided to the challenger.