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FBI Saw Uptick in Gun Sale Background Checks During Pandemic

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FBI Saw Uptick in Gun Sale Background Checks During Pandemic

2020-04-02 22:35:57

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Shotguns (Image source: Public domain)

The coronavirus pandemic has caused strange behavior in some people. It has led to hoarding, for sure. While stocking up on some things is understandable, people emptying the shelves of toilet paper confused many. Another confusing purchasing decision is firearms. The FBI reported a 41 percent surge in firearm background checks in the United States in the month of March. 

At first thought, it's confusing why concern of contracting a deadly disease would cause someone to buy a gun. You can't shoot a virus, and shooting the messenger, likely a doctor or nurse, would be counterproductive.

3.7 million firearm purchase background checks were conducted in March, making it the most background checks done in a single month since 1998 when the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was launched. 

The state leading the pack in federal firearm background checks last month was Illinois. It had a half-million background checks just in March. The state was followed by Texas, Kentucky, Florida, and California.

Experts believe that while stay-at-home orders have been issued by states and municipalities to stop the spread of coronavirus COVID-19, it can lead to fear and anxiety. 

"We often see seasonal spikes in firearm sales, but, in addition, it is not uncommon to see increased gun sales based on political or social events and attitudes," said Cara Herman, an ATF spokesperson. "Background checks and other regulatory safeguards are in place to ensure that only those eligible under federal law can obtain and possess firearms."

Not that the big rise in gun sales was solely due to the pandemic. FBI statistics show that the number of background checks across the country has steadily increased in the two decades since the system was launched. There is usually an uptick in gun purchases after national tragedies as well. But most of the national tragedies in the U.S. are usually shootings. 

"The rise in gun and ammunition sales during this crisis is understandable as the fear of the unknown can drive purchasing far off their norms," said CNN law enforcement analyst and former Secret Service special agent Johnathan Wackrow.

"Research has shown that during a crisis, if individuals let fear, anxiety, and confusion spread, they will most likely begin to feel helpless. For many, the purchase of a weapon resolves that sense of helplessness." 

Amy Hunter, spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, believes its concerns about personal safety driving the gun sales. "Firearm sales go up in times of uncertainty because Americans know their safety is ultimately in their own hands," she said.

"Headlines remind us about prisoners being furloughed, first responders being told to selectively enforce laws or being minutes away when seconds count. Now, more than ever, it's important that families have the ability and the tools they need to feel safe and able to defend themselves." 

What Hunter is perhaps missing in that argument is that the need for some people to have firearms to make themselves feel safe makes a large number of people feel very unsafe. If there was a 41 percent uptick in background checks, that most assuredly stems from firearm sales, how long is it going to be until there is a mass shooting?

Indeed, Shannon Watts, founder of the advocacy group Moms Demand Action, said, "Adding more guns into the mix during a deadly pandemic won't make anyone safer, but it will make the gun lobby richer. 

"This spike in gun sales is deeply concerning, particularly for the millions of children unexpectedly at home with unsecured guns, women sheltering in place with abusers, and anyone struggling economically and psychologically."

Retired AF special agent and senior policy adviser to the Giffords organization countering gun violence, David Chapman, adds yet another argument. 

"My biggest concern involves the potential number of first-time gun buyers who, before March, did not think they needed a gun," he said.

"Now in a moment of panic, they are rushing to a store and buying a lethal weapon they don't know how to use and don't know how to store safely. Unfortunately, thousands of Americans have placed their families in jeopardy at a time when they simply want to be safe." 

It just adds another troubling aspect to a situation that is already very much under control. This was not something the U.S. government was prepared for, but they should have been. And 41 percent more guns is not going to help.

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