When state and local governments began ordering businesses to close at the beginning of March, many Texans flocked to gun stores to purchase firearms and ammunition.
March of this year saw an all-time high in the number of gun sales, as indicated by the record number of background checks conducted through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
Though not every background check necessarily means a gun was sold, the statistics are generally a reliable indicator of the demand for firearms.
Every dealer with a Federal Firearm License (FFL), which is required for every business that regularly sells guns, must process a gun buyer’s application through NICS.
While gun stores in some states and counties were required to close during the lockdown, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion in late March to ensure that they could remain open.
In March, 274,211 background checks were conducted in the state of Texas — up 94 percent from the previous year and up 92 percent from February.
Background checks for the month of April reached a total of 197,343. That’s a decline in 28 percent from March, but still up 84 percent from April of last year.
In comparison, the national statistics show a decline of 12 percent from March to April, but April’s 2.3 million total was only up 25 percent from last year — a much smaller spike than in Texas.
Typically, in 90 percent of gun purchases, the NICS system will provide an immediate approval or denial of the sale.
For any delayed sale, the NICS team has up to three business days — not including weekends or days when state offices are closed — to investigate the case and provide an approval or denial.
If they are unable to process the check within three days, the FFL dealer is permitted to sell the gun.
But the surge in demand for firearms has caused the NICS system to be bogged down, leading to greater delays in the processing of background checks, with some dealers allegedly being told to wait beyond the three-day period.
Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), joined by a few dozen other Republican senators, sent a letter to the directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), requesting data on the number of delays and how many have resulted in approvals or denials.
“Any unreasonable and unnecessary delay beyond the three business days unlawfully impedes the exercise of a person’s fundamental constitutional right,” said the letter.
“We are confident that through your leadership, we can work together to ensure that NICS remains up and running during this time of crisis and that law-abiding citizens are not deprived of their constitutional right to keep and bear arms, especially during these uncertain times.”
Cruz has previously introduced legislation with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to crack down on those who lie on background checks.
Last month, several Democratic senators sent a letter to the same bureaucratic officials requesting that the ATF “issue guidance alerting FFLs that background checks are likely to take longer than three business days for NICS to complete during the pandemic.”
Gun control advocates have stated that the surge in sales and the so-called “Charleston loophole,” which allows dealers to transfer guns if the NICS processing takes longer than three business days, will lead to an increase in firearm-related deaths.
“The giant loopholes in America’s background check law make it all too likely that today’s surge in gun sales will lead to tomorrow’s surge in gun violence,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.
Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, said that the “continued surge in gun sales is bringing new risks into American homes that will linger long after the pandemic,” especially with the added tensions in many homes as a result of the lockdown.
Advocacy groups on the other side of the political aisle argue that surge in demand has been driven by concerned citizens seeking self defense options during the crisis.
Michael Hammond, the legislative counsel for Gun Owners of America, attributed the rise in gun sales to people wanting to keep their families safe, fear of local government tyranny, an increase of crime and release of criminals, and the anticipation of low supplies of firearms and ammunition.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.