The beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States coincided with thousands of people barred from purchasing firearms trying to buy them anyway, according to FBI data made public on Thursday.
The agency’s figures, which were revealed after a Freedom of Information Act request by the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, showed that 23,692 attempted gun sales were blocked by background checks in March 2020 alone. That is a dramatic increase from the previous month, which featured just 9,700 blocks, and from March 2019, which had 9,500 blocks.
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, can block Americans from buying guns for a few different reasons, including if they’re subject to a restraining order or have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution.
But gun-control advocates are concerned about this huge spike in background checks because, with the NICS facing a significantly increased workload, more people can slip through the cracks in the law to buy guns when they’re not supposed to. Specifically, if a background check cannot be completed within three days, the purchase can go through, so a strained system that causes delays would not be able to effectively enforce the law.
Even President Donald Trump’s Justice Department hinted at this problem in May when it asked Congress for more resources so it could confiscate guns from people who never should have been able to buy them in the first place.
Said John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown, in a statement, “This FBI data confirms our fear that America’s background check system is completely overwhelmed, which means that more guns are slipping through the cracks and being sold to prohibited purchasers.”
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