Americans appear to be purchasing more guns during the coronavirus pandemic, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
June saw a record 3.9 million background checks associated with firearm sales — the most of any month since the FBI began tracking the data in November 1998. In July that number dropped slightly with more than 3.6 million background checks, according to FBI data.
Every month this year, background checks have well-exceeded those for the same month in 2019, the data show.
For months in 2020 compared to the same month in 2019, the difference in the number of background checks falls roughly between 600,000 and 1.6 million, the data say.
For instance, more than 3.7 million backgrounds were run through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) in March 2020, compared to 2.6 million for the same month in 2019.
June and July 2020 each saw roughly 1.6 million more background checks than the same months in 2019.
States that have conducted the most background checks so far this year are Illinois, Kentucky, Texas, Florida and California, the data show.
Federally licensed gun dealers are required to run background checks on gun buyers through the NICS either by phone or online.
The NICS is a computerized system that checks records to ensure a gun buyer does not have a criminal history that would prevent them from being allowed to buy a firearm. It’s designed to respond instantly.
A prospective buyer will fill out a form from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives which asks for information including name, race and criminal history. A seller then sends that information through the NICS to either the FBI or a designated state point of contact which will determine whether the prospective buyer is eligible to buy a firearm.
The June spike in background checks came as demonstrators took to the streets across the country to protest police brutality following the death of George Floyd.
Floyd, 46, an unarmed Black man, died while in police custody on May 25 after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, as three other officers didn’t intervene. All have been fired and are facing charges.
Firearm purchases have been known to spike following national tragedies, CNN reported, with federal law enforcement seeing a 39% jump in firearm background checks in 2012 the month of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, compared to the month before.
The FBI reported a 48% spike in background checks in 2015 the month of a deadly terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif, according to CNN.
“Firearm sales go up in times of uncertainty because Americans know their safety is ultimately in their own hands,” National Rifle Association spokesperson Amy Hunter told the outlet in March.
Kris Brown, president of the Brady gun violence prevention organization, disagrees.
“It is understandable that many Americans are fearful and seeking security in the time of the Covid pandemic,” he told CNN. “However, we know that the rhetoric put forth by the NRA and the gun industry, that the purchase of a gun is a risk-free means to secure safety, is untrue and leads to tragic results every single day.”