Coronavirus: US gun sales shatter records as shops selling firearms are declared essential

FBI processes 3.7 million background checks as gun control advocates warn against fear-buying during the Covid-19 outbreak

Chris Riotta
New York
Thursday 02 April 2020 16:13 BST
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Americans purchased a record-breaking number of firearms throughout the month of March, according to the latest figures, as gun shops in many states across the country were declared essential businesses amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

Nearly two million guns were purchased throughout the month, the New York Times reported, making March the second-busiest month for gun sales in American history.

The FBI’s background check system meanwhile conducted a record 3.7 million firearm background checks in March, a figure that skyrocketed from 850,000 in February.

Industry analysts estimated about 2.4 million of those background checks were conducted for the purpose of gun sales. Experts said the figures from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System provide the best indicator of how many firearms are being sold in the US on a monthly basis.

There are a variety of complicating factors that make it difficult to find the true figures for gun sales in the US, including laws in some states that don’t require background checks for certain types of gun sales.

Still, the data reflected a clear surge in firearms purchases, as gun control advocates warned that fear-buying weapons during the coronavirus pandemic could have potentially fatal consequences.

Some experts have also said the rise in gun sales, mixed with a historic economic downturn and hundreds of millions of Americans living under shelter-in-place orders, could lead to a possible rise in domestic violence.

“We are deeply appreciative to the Trump Administration and Department of Homeland Security for recognizing the vital role our industry fulfills in our nation,” Lawrence Keane, senior vice president for the National Shooting Sports Foundation said in a statement. “We have seen over the past week hundreds of thousands, even millions of Americans choosing to exercise their right to keep and bear arms to ensure their safety and the safety of loved ones during these uncertain times.

He added: "Americans must not be denied the ability to exercise that right to lawfully purchase and acquire firearms during times of emergency."

The rise in background checks conducted in March was staggering, with approximately 1.2 million conducted in a single week — the most since the FBI began recording the data in 1998.

Though states have declared gun stores essential businesses, gun control groups said local governments should close shops selling firearms in an effort to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of Covid-19 transmissions so state hospital systems remain within capacity.

“State and local governments are well within their constitutional rights to broadly close businesses in order to prevent the spread and flatten the curve,” Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign, said in a statement emailed to The Hill. “They are definitely not required to designate gun industry businesses as ‘essential’ and keep them open.”

She added: “There is no constitutional right to immediately buy or sell guns, and there is certainly no right to spread coronavirus while buying or selling guns."

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