(NEW YORK) — Nearly four million gun background checks were performed last month, the highest number since the federal government began tracking them, the FBI said.
And gun safety advocates say they’re worried there isn’t enough being done to prevent shootings as the coronavirus heightens the public’s fears.
There were roughly 3.7 million background checks performed by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) last month, which is the highest number of one-month checks performed in the system’s 21-year history. By comparison, there were about 2.8 million checks performed in February and about 2.6 million checks in March 2019, according to the FBI.
So far this year there have been more than 9.2 million background checks, according to the FBI data. The FBI notes that the background checks underreport the number of actual gun sales, as some states allow for multiple weapons purchases with a single background check.
In February, the internet retailer ammo.com reported a 309% increase in revenue and a 222% jump in transactions. Gun stores, which have been declared an essential business by the federal government, have remained open and have seen a jump in customers in states across the country.
Kyleanne Hunter, vice president of programs for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said she’s not surprised by the jump in gun sales, as similar jumps are seen during other major crises such as hurricanes or natural disasters. However, she said she was very concerned by the lack of response by federal and state leaders to push for more gun safety during these trying times.
“One of our biggest fears is that we will have people, more and more people, in difficult situations because they’re stuck at home with a gun, especially with first-time gun owners,” she told ABC News.
The spread of the virus has led to reports of armed persons threatening others out of fear from the pandemic. Police in Maine were investigating a claim that armed men blocked a resident’s driveway with a downed tree branch to prevent him from leaving his home.
The biggest problem, Hunter said, is that the government’s gun inspection services haven’t been deemed essential on a national basis, which has opened the door for questionable sales.
“We don’t know how gun dealers are acting,” she said. “Groceries are still open but the FDA is still open inspecting the food. Why aren’t agents inspecting the gun stores?”
Hunter added that gun training and gun safety classes have been canceled across the country because of social distancing rules.
And while President Donald Trump and elected officials have expressed concerns over increased suicides while people are sheltering in place, Hunter implored state leaders to do more to ensure that increased gun sales don’t lead to increased violence.
States that have their own gun inspection offices should increase their visits to stores, and governors themselves should speak about safety daily during their press events, Hunter suggested.
“They should use that pulpit to talk about the risks that guns pose at home, especially with friendly fire,” she said.
Hunter suggested that civilians who either know someone who recently purchased a gun or live in the household where a gun was recently purchased should have thoughtful conversations about safety procedures, especially as the pandemic increases household stress.
“We need to destigmatize the conversation in a very real way,” she said. “We are usually hesitant to ask people if they have guns and if they’re stored, and we need to normalize that conversation just like we normalize the conversations about drinking too much during stressful times.”
If you or anyone you know have suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.
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