The number of people trying to buy guns they can’t legally own has skyrocketed, Politico reports. That happened in a surge in gun purchases in the first three months of 2020, compared with the same time period in 2019. The change has raised concerns about gun safety. In March 2019, the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) ran background checks on 823,273 attempted gun buys. This past March, NICS processed more than 1.4 million background checks, a massive spike. The most dramatic shift might be in how many people the system blocked from buying guns. In March 2019 and February 2020, the NICS system blocked about 9,500 and 9,700, respectively. This past March, the system blocked more than 23,692 gun sales.
Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates for tighter gun laws, obtained the numbers through a Freedom of Information Act request. NICS blocks sales for only a few reasons, including that the would-be purchaser has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or is subject to a restraining order for stalking an intimate partner. Federal law bans people in these categories from buying guns. Loopholes in the system mean any spike in gun purchases likely includes an increase in gun purchases by people who can’t legally own them. The Justice Department has asked Congress for more funding to deal with retrieving guns from people who slipped through the background check system and bought them illegally. The FBI says NICS “has reallocated resources to address the incoming volume of NICS transactions.” John Feinblatt of Everytown said, “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.”