The number of people attempting to buy firearms who aren’t legally permitted to own them soared in March, according to newly released data from the FBI, prompting concerns from some gun safety advocates.
The data, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Everytown for Gun Safety and first shared with Politico, showed a 147% increase in federal background checks that ended in denial in March compared to the same time last year.
This March, 23,692 federal background checks ended in denial ― more than the 8,249 denials the previous February and 9,558 denials the previous March combined.
The surge in denials comes amid gun retailers’ reports of record sales during the coronavirus crisis. The FBI processed over 1.4 million firearm background checks in March, the same month President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in response to the pandemic.
Individuals seeking to purchase a gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer, such as Walmart or a mom and pop store, must submit to a federal background check. The number of background checks in any given month is a strong indicator of gun sales at that time.
As Politico pointed out, there are significant loopholes in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, allowing people who are legally prohibited from owning guns to slip through the cracks and purchase firearms.
One such loophole, commonly referred to as the “Charleston loophole” because it enabled mass murderer Dylan Roof to purchase the gun he used to kill nine Black churchgoers in 2015, allows a gun sale to move forward if a background check is delayed more than three business days. If the background check is later denied, federal agents are supposed to confiscate that weapon.
The data obtained by Everytown shows 76,558 background checks were delayed past three days in March, a 53% increase over the same time last year.
“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,” Everytown President John Feinblatt said in a statement.
Referencing the Senate majority leader, he added: “Mitch McConnell can stop this by taking action to close the Charleston loophole, but he’s too scared of the gun lobby’s waning political power to do anything, even as gun violence rises in the midst of a pandemic.”
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) called data “terrifying” and bashed McConnell for refusing to take action on background check loopholes.
“The Republican party is unfit to govern,” Pascrell tweeted.
The Democratic-controlled House passed a bipartisan bill last February that would, in part, extend the background check period to at least 10 days. McConnell has not yet called a Senate vote on the proposed legislation.