January 31, 2023

Many companies and institutions now carry out background checks when recruiting new employees or deciding who to work with. In fact, background checks are increasingly common – and legally required or recommended in some cases – which means that knowing how and when to undertake a universal background check can be useful.

This article will define a background check, indicate the difference between a general and universal checks, and give you an overview of how to complete a universal check.

What is a Background Check?

To put it simply, a background check is a process that individuals or businesses can use to get insight into the history and character of another person. Background checks are legal and, in the case of some processes, such as financial lending or firearms sales (in certain countries), legally required. There is a limit to what information such a check can provide, however, and there are strict regulations around what potential employers can ask for.

For example, the best background check site may provide criminal and financial records, but cannot provide medical records. There is also a difference between a general and a universal background check. Knowing the difference is particularly important for employers who consider screening as a part of recruitment.

What’s the Difference Between a General and Universal Background Check?

To put it simply, a general background check can be undertaken for a variety of reasons and in a variety of situations, while a universal background check is undertaken in specific situations. More specifically, a universal background check is mostly connected to the sale of firearms. The concept of a universal background check on all firearms sales and transfers within the U.S. is connected to the Universal Background Check Bill that was proposed by the Democrats.

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The main difference between these two types of background checks, outside of the situation in which they are used, is the information provided. A general background check will provide information including, but not limited to:

  • Work history.
  • Aliases.
  • Financial history.
  • Social media usage.
  • Past and current addresses.
  • Criminal history.

By contrast, a universal background check is focused entirely on information that pertains to the sale and ownership of firearms. This includes:

  • Criminal history.
  • Mental health history (particularly relating to disorders that increase the risk of violence or disassociation and institutionalization).
  • Residency status (e.g. is a person in the country legally, with all required papers).
  • Any active or recent restraining or protection orders.
  • Dishonorable discharge from a military body.
  • Whether the person has any other registered firearms.

Unless you are employing someone who will be working with firearms, or your business is selling firearms, you are not likely to need a universal background check process. If you do, however, knowing how to undertake one (and what regulations you must comply with) is crucial.

How to Use a Universal Background Check

If you are in a position where you need to run a universal background check as a registered firearm dealer, you will need to first make sure that your business and processes are compliant to the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Brady Act of 1993. Once this is in hand, you will need to be registered to run a universal check through the NICS.

To undertake a NICS universal background check, you will need to be FFL registered and you will need to use a NICS-approved service. There are a number of NICS-approved background check services that offer both single background checks and memberships, which offer multiple or unlimited checks for a single cost.

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This process should take only a few minutes, but you will need to explain the process and why it is necessary to potential customers to ensure the screening process is transparent and that they give informed consent.

When is a General Background Check More Appropriate?

If you are running a background check for any other reason than the sale of firearms, you will need to run a general background check instead. Businesses of all kinds use general background checks to screen potential employees, but private individuals can also undertake a background check. The most common reasons that individuals undertake a general background check include:

  • Screening potential childcare professionals.
  • Screening domestic service providers, such as cleaners.
  • Screening in-home healthcare specialists.

Some people also run background checks on potential romantic partners to screen for criminal history pertaining to domestic abuse. In short, general background checks are most appropriate for employers screening candidates and private individuals concerned about mitigating risks. If you intend to undertake background checks of any kind, do some research to find the best background check site for you.