President Barack Obama may still be the greatest gun salesman of all time, but this year’s novel coronavirus is threatening to surpass him.
The number of gun-related background checks conducted in a single month exceeded 3.7 million in March, shattering the previous record of 2.9 million set in December of 2019. Prior to December, the most background checks conducted in a single month (2.7 million) occurred in December of 2012 after Obama won a second term in the White House.
The numbers come from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which is used for all gun purchases conducted through a federally licensed firearms dealer. Because some states allow guns to be purchased without a background check from a private seller or using a concealed carry card, the NICS data is not a perfect measure of gun sales. It does, however, back up the anecdotal evidence suggesting a rise in gun sales in the wake of COVID-19.
Gun buyers in the United States reported long lines and empty shelves at firearms dealers across the country as Americans prepare to defend themselves against possible civil unrest caused by the novel coronavirus. Many also wonder whether overworked and understaffed police departments will be able to respond effectively to the possible increase in crime.
The NICS numbers do not indicate how many buyers had already passed gun-related background checks, but stories have been circulating widely that many gun buyers are first-time owners.
Gun-related news outlets like GunsAmerica have published tutorials directed at new gun owners who cannot attend gun safety classes due to shelter-in-place orders.
The anti-gun lobby, by contrast, has done nothing to help this new gun-owning population beyond decrying the work of the National Rifle Association.
“Decades of NRA lobbying have created deadly loopholes in our background check laws, and now, thanks to the gun lobby’s fear-mongering, a surge in gun sales threatens to overload the system completely,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.
“Adding more guns into the mix during a deadly pandemic won’t make anyone safer, but it will make the gun lobby richer,” added Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “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. Stockpiling guns and ammo during this crisis puts communities at even greater risk of harm.”
Meanwhile, pro-gun groups are working to ensure that gun stores remain open even during the COVID-19 shutdown. Thanks to efforts by the Second Amendment Foundation and others, a number of states and localities have reversed previous decisions to close gun shops. The Department of Homeland Security also issued guidance that deemed gun store employees “essential” during the crisis.
“We are witnessing what amounts to an epiphany for many Americans during this crisis, as they remember what the Second Amendment is about,” Second Amendment Foundation founder Alan Gottlieb said. “Those who think suspending a constitutional right is acceptable because a virus is a health threat are truly mixing the proverbial apples and oranges to suit their own agendas.”