Historic Increase in Gun Sales and Reduced NICS Capacity During the COVID-19 Pandemic Causes Potentially Deadly Background Check Delays and Increased Risks of Unintentional Gun Violence, Domestic Violence, and Gun Suicide
NEW YORK — Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, a part of Everytown, applauded a group of Democratic senators led by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) for writing a letter to the FBI and ATF depicting five key steps those two bureaus should take to protect public safety as gun sales spike and Americans self-quarantine at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter, first reported by Newsweek, is also signed by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Coons (D-DE), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
The Senators’ letter, which can be read in full here, addresses key concerns at a time when there is increased risk of unintentional shootings, domestic violence, and suicide. There has also been a historic increase in background checks, with 41 percent more background checks completed in March 2020 than in March 2019. This increased volume could lead to delays in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and concerns about the Charleston loophole––a gap in federal law that allows gun sales to proceed if a background check has not been completed within three business days.
“With the Trump Administration giving the gun lobby special treatment and urging governors to let gun stores stay open, Americans are counting on Congress to step up and take action to prevent gun violence, which is exactly what these Senators are doing,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “As more Americans are confined to their homes, this letter lays out common-sense steps the FBI and ATF can take to minimize the increased the risk of unintentional shootings, domestic violence shootings, and firearm suicide during this pandemic.”
“With so much chaos and confusion coming from the White House, it’s a comfort to see there’s some leadership left in Washington,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “The FBI and ATF should adopt these recommendations immediately. Keeping Americans safe will take more than social distancing — we also have to curb America’s gun violence crisis, which devastates communities everyday, even during a pandemic.”
Among other recommendations, the letter urges the FBI and ATF to address the Charleston loophole (named after the loophole the Mother Emanuel AME Church shooter exploited to acquire his firearm) by urging gun dealers to wait for NICS to complete background checks before transferring firearms and ensuring the FBI keeps records of delayed checks for as long as it takes to complete all background checks. While the vast majority of background checks are completed on the spot, approximately 10 percent take longer than three business days––and a delayed background check is a strong indication that the potential buyer may ultimately turn out to be prohibited from having guns. An analysis of the past five years of NICS data shows that background checks completed after the three business day period are four times more likely to result in a denial than checks completed within three business days.
Yesterday, Everytown and Moms Demand Action released guidance detailing ways that governors can reduce the risks of unintentional shootings, domestic violence, and gun suicides. Earlier this week, John Feinblatt and Shannon Watts hosted a press call on the Trump administration’s advisory deeming gun stores as essential as cops, hospital workers, and first responders.